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Julian Assange’s defence lawyers’ attempts to free Assange from extradition on the grounds of health

Julian Assange’s defence lawyers’ attempts to free Assange from extradition on the grounds of health risks may prove to be untenable, according to a legal expert.

The Australian-born WikiLeaks leader has been charged under the US’s 1917 Espionage Act for “unlawfully obtaining and disclosing classified documents related to the national defence”.

Between now and the verdict given on January 4, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser, without a jury, will have to consider three things.

First, whether Assange’s legal treatment has been politically motivated, in which case, it will bar his extradition under the US-UK Extradition Act.

Second, whether extraditing Assange will put him in danger of enduring inhumane conditions. The European Convention of Human Rights Article 3 states that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

And lastly, whether there is a genuine abuse of power in attempting to secure Assange's extradition (the CIA effort to conduct surveillance of Assange in the embassy, destroying client-lawyer confidentiality is a case in point).

Given Baraitser’s treatment of Assange during the trial, it is highly unlikely she will admit the trial was politically motivated or an abuse of power. She has shown little interest in allowing Assange more time with legal representatives to make his defence, she has denied him bail and denied easy access for NGOs and advocates to monitor the proceedings, including Amnesty International.

In fact, she claimed that 40 groups/individuals should not have had remote access to the proceedings to begin with, and asked them to re-apply, bringing into question the tenets of open justice.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark, an academic and researcher who teaches within the Legal and Dispute Studies program for the Bachelor of Social Science at RMIT University, said “the Lauri Love and Gary McKinnon cases are powerful precedents suggesting that mental health and the dangers posed by the US prison system will constitute bars to extradition”.

However, both Love and McKinnon are British nationals who published US classified material, not Australian nationals publishing US classified material, and neither are as well known as Assange, who is the current global symbol of national security journalism.

Because of his notoriety, “the judge might choose to distinguish his case, which is a genuine danger. If she is satisfied that he would be at ’some risk’ and suffer ‘some harm’, that will be insufficient to exclude extradition”.

If Baraitser rules against extradition, the US government may appeal. But if Baraitser rules for extradition, it will then go to the Home Secretary and Assange’s legal team will appeal to the High Court, then Supreme Court, depending on the outcome.

No juries will form these proceedings. Then the case will come to the European Court of Human Rights.

The mother of Assange’s two children, Stella Moris, has shared grave concerns of the overruling of Assange’s life for political purposes on social media:

Dr Kampmark said Assange faces the prospect of spending time at facilities such as the Alexandria Detention Centre in Virginia, and the ADX Florence supermax, which is regarded as a "blackspot" in the US prison system.

He also faces the application of Special Administrative Measures that will restrict access to counsel, his family and his chances of adequate defence.


Article: Rebecca Broadhead

Photo: Garry Knight


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