The US Dept of Justice will continue pushing for the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a spokesperson confirmed on Wednesday.
This comes after a UK judge blocked Assange’s shipment to the States on mental health grounds last month. As a result, the US government faced a deadline of the end of this week to challenge the ruling. Today’s announcement makes it plain that the decision will be challenged.
That deadline represented just the latest in a long series of possible resolution points for the case against the hacker and online publisher of leaked documents, the previous one being the exit of President Trump from the White House with some expecting him to pardon Assange on the way out the door. He decided not to in the end.
The decision by prosecutors, working under President Joe Biden, to press on also ignores an appeal made at the start of the week by a coalition of civil-liberties and human-rights groups, who urged the new commander-in-chief to drop the effort to drag Assange to America to face trial after obtaining and distributing classified material, most notably a huge cache of American military and diplomatic documents. Said files were shared via his WikiLeaks website.
In a letter to the President – signed by the ACLU, Amnesty International, the EFF, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, and 19 other organizations – the coalition argued that Assange’s treatment threatened press freedom “because much of the conduct described in the indictment is conduct that journalists engage in routinely – and that they must engage in in order to do the work the public needs them to do."
Julian Assange will NOT be extradited to the US over WikiLeaks hacking and spy charges, rules British judgeREAD MORE
It noted that “news organizations frequently and necessarily publish classified information in order to inform the public of matters of profound public significance.”
Last month, Westminster Magistrates' Court ruled that, despite there being no legal obstacles to Assange being extradited to the US for trial, he was a suicide risk and therefore should not be shipped out.
"I am satisfied that the risk that Mr Assange will commit suicide is a substantial one," said District Judge Vanessa Baraitser, sitting at the Old Bailey. She agreed with the conclusions of medical expert Professor Michael Kopelman, an emeritus professor of neuropsychiatry at King's College London, who submitted two detailed reports on Assange’s mental condition.
No legal barriers
It is worth noting, however, that the judge also threw out all the legal arguments put forward by Assange's defense team as to why he should not be extradited, including the argument that he was being prosecuted for embarrassing the United States rather than for an actual criminal offence. The judge also agreed with the US government’s lawyers when they argued his activities were outside normal journalistic practice – something that President Biden will no doubt point to when asked why he didn’t follow the plea letter from civil-liberties groups.
The Obama White House had been wary about prosecuting Assange due to free speech concerns; the Trump regime was less concerned and pushed hard to get Assange over the Atlantic. Adding to uncertainty on that issue, the Brit judge said: "Free speech does not comprise a 'trump card' even where matters of serious public concern are disclosed,” something many Americans will argue differently due the US Constitution’s First Amendment.
Assange is an Australian citizen though he was in London in December 2010 when an international arrest warrant was issued for him by Swedish police over allegations he had sexually assaulted two women – charges his supporters claimed were a ploy to get him arrested and extradited to Sweden, at which point the US government would then apply to have him sent to America for trial.
Assange gave himself up to the British police and went through a Swedish extradition process which he lost and repeatedly appealed. When it became clear he was going to be sent to Sweden, Assange claimed political asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London in June 2012, which was granted by the country’s foreign minister.
Stalema... you're coming with me, son
That led to an extraordinary situation where Assange stayed in the embassy for nearly seven years, giving occasional speeches from a small balcony, while being constantly monitored by British police. In April 2019, the impasse broke when Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno said Assange had violated the terms of his asylum – WikiLeaks was accused by Moreno of sparking allegations of corruption against him and the leaking of photos of his family – and Brit cops were invited inside the embassy to arrest him. Months later, Sweden dropped its investigation against the WikiLeaks chief.
Since he was taken into custody, Assange has been fighting the US government’s efforts to extradite him. In May 2019, he was admitted to HM Prison Belmarsh's medical unit after sharing suicidal thoughts. Half a razor blade was also found hidden in his cell, and prison medics concluded he was "finding it hard to control the thoughts of self-harm and suicide."
That led to the psychiatric evaluation of his state of mind that the judge used in January to stop his extradition: a decision that will now be challenged by the third US administration that has tried to put him on trial on American soil for his activities. ®