Julian Assange will remain in a British prison for now after the US government won permission to appeal against a January court ruling that freed him from extradition to America.
News of the appeal came as the US Department of Justice offered Assange a deal that would keep him out of the notoriously cruel US supermax prisons, according to The Times.
The High Court this morning granted the US permission to appeal against a ruling by Westminster Magistrates’ Court that Assange couldn’t be extradited because he would commit suicide if handed over to the Americans. The WikiLeaker-in-chief’s legal team lost on every other legal ground against extradition.
US authorities gained that permission on three grounds, including a deal that would rule out his being sent to a federal supermax in Colorado or being automatically subject to extra-harsh punishments within prison.
“The United States has also provided an assurance that the United States will consent to Mr Assange being transferred to Australia to serve any custodial sentence imposed on him,” said the High Court’s ruling.
The US had said it would appeal against District Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s January ruling, doing so shortly after Joe Biden was elected president earlier this year. It appears Biden’s ministers have no regrets about continuing a long-running legal feud with Assange, which began under former US president Barack Obama in 2016.
Under Assange’s leadership WikiLeaks published various secret American documents, including a batch of 250,000 diplomatic cables. Lawyers for the US told Westminster Magistrates’ Court these contained unredacted details of American spies and their tipsters in hostile foreign countries, placing (so the US says) these people at immediate risk. It was also alleged that Assange and his co-WikiLeakers tried to warn the US about their publication beforehand.
Assange has always claimed his prosecution under the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is politically motivated revenge because he embarrassed government officials and revealed the extent of American wrongdoing in its Middle Eastern wars, especially with the Apache gunship helicopter footage that WikiLeaks dubbed “Collateral Murder”.
Crucially, however, the US alleges Assange went far beyond mere publication, as a journalist, and directly commissioned the theft of secret data from Department of Defence networks, and the cracking of a password protecting those materials. It is allged Assange got hold of these diplomatic cables from former US Army Intelligence operatve Chelsea Manning.
Assange has spent a decade on the run from the US. He was accused in Sweden of sexually assaulting a woman and an EU Arrest Warrant, at the time enforceable in the UK, was issued against him. British authorities arrested him and granted him bail while he contested those extradition proceedings all the way up to the Supreme Court, a fight he lost. Shortly after the Supremes rejected his legal claims in mid-2012, the Australian fled to Ecuador’s London embassy, costing his celebrity pals £240,000 in forfeited bail bond fees.
He claimed the Swedish extradition was a ploy to get him to an airport where the US could abduct him (with the help of British and/or Swedish authorities) and spirit him away to America.
Having thoroughly outstayed his welcome in the Knightsbridge embassy’s broom cupboard, Assange’s seven-year sit-in ended when he was thrown out by the Ecuadorians in 2019 – straight into the hands of the Metropolitan Police.
He was arrested, charged, and convicted of breaching his bail conditions in 2012, receiving an 11-month prison sentence. He spent that sentence in HMP Belmarsh, the grim category-A prison in southeast London, and has remained there ever since after being remanded in custody as a flight risk.
The Register will be covering the High Court appeal. With the only legal barrier to Assange’s extradition being his mental state, the only chance he has of staying in the UK (and being released from prison) is to prove to the judge that he would commit suicide if sent abroad.
The current US indictment against him contains 17 charges, totalling 175 years in prison if he were found guilty on all of them. ®
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