Overwhelming evidence Julian Assange would be isolated in a US prison, court told
Julian Assange would inevitably face “harsh isolation” if extradited to America the High Court has been told.
Edward Fitzgerald QC, representing the Wikileaks founder was addressing the hearing of the US government’s appeal against the decision that Assange should not be sent to the USA to face charges of espionage. Fitzgerald said the evidence Assange would be put in isolation if extradited is “overwhelming,” adding, “This is not something that would happen in the dim and distant future, it would happen the moment he landed.”
The defence barrister said that this was a “very exceptional case,” as “for many years it wasn’t even thought possible to prosecute Assange at all,” reminding the court “we’ve even seen prosecutors resigning over it.”
The QC also responded to the US Government’s argument that nobody ever extradited from the UK to the USA had ever ended up taking their own life saying: “This has nothing to do with the Americans, it’s to do with the courts here protecting vulnerable UK citizens, and now they are trying to turn that against us.”
Fitzgerald also addressed the issue of an expert report produced by eminent psychiatrist Michael Kopelman. Yesterday the head of the US Government’s legal team, James Lewis QC, condemned the report as misleading as it had not mentioned that Mr Assange had fathered two children while in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
The QC reminded the court of recent news reports claiming that the CIA considered killing Assange. “There were great grounds for fearing what would be done to him given the revelations of surveillance in the embassy and plots to kill him,” he said.
Fitzgerald argued Kopelman did say in his report that Assange had started a relationship with a woman while he was in the embassy, but decided not to name her for safety reasons and he had also taken legal advice over this.
Fitzgerald says the original judge heard that evidence first-hand and had ruled not naming Assange’s partner was due to “understandable human concerns.” He insisted that Kopelman was not acting on Mr. Assange’s instructions but instead on his own initiative.
He also attacked the US legal team for what he called, “recklessly, publicly” stating that there was a finding that the court had been misled by the psychiatrist, saying “there was no such finding.” He also attacked the US side for implying a historic quote by Kopelman (“I like to work inside the system to promote the cause of justice”) as evidence he was dishonest. Fitzgerald called this “Scraping the barrel in an unworthy manner” and “not conducive to the proper consideration of the issues before this court.”
The defence is expected to finish its submissions this afternoon and after a short reply from the US side, the two judges, The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon and Lord Justice Holroyd, will retire to consider their decision.
Assange lawyers question validity of US assurances
US government assurances about the treatment of Julian Assange, if he is extradited, are “conditional, qualified and aspirational,” the High Court has been told.
Mark Summers QC, who is part of the Wikileaks founder’s defence team, was commenting on a new US Government statement that their intention was not to imprison Assange under Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) or be placed in a high security Supermax prison.
He asked the two judges to consider that the assurances had only appeared at this appeal hearing, “Why are they allowed to change their case after two years with a mentally vulnerable defendant in custody?” he asked, adding “if there was no risk of SAMS they could have made a firm commitment not to impose them, which they have not. This might give us an indication of their intentions,” he said.
“There are genuine questions about their trustworthiness,” he said.
Summers also drew attention to a number of statements presented to the original hearings in the case, which led to a district judge rejecting the US extradition request, noting that while being central to the government’s case, Assistant United States Attorney Gordon Kromberg declined to take to the witness stand and be cross-examined.
Summers suggested that Krombeg’s statements do not rule out SAMS or Supermax prisons, but instead argued that “they are ok.“ He quoted Kromberg’s statements where he had said prisoners in a Supermax jail were not in solitary confinement as they could “shout to the prisoners in the cells beside and above them.”
“This assurance takes us nowhere at all,” Summers said.
Summers said that the CIA has classified Wikileaks as a “hostile non-state intelligence entity,” and according to credible media reports wanted “vengence” over the leaks from the CIA to the extent that they had considered kidnapping, or even assassinating Assange.
Sommers also noted the Spanish extradition case of a Mr Mendoza in which US prosecutors had guaranteed that if he was extradited and convicted he would be sent back to Spain to serve his sentence. He was duly convicted and applied for transfer but this was refused by the Department of Justice. Summers said that prosecutors could assert what they wished, but any transfer would ultimately not be their decision.
Moving onto possible sentences, the barrister told the court, “Every single lawyer, including experienced judges, who have looked at this say these guidelines would lead to a de facto life sentence… which he would spend in complete isolation.”
Responding on behalf of the US Government, James Lewis QC told the court that Mr Mendoza was eventually returned to Spain to serve his sentence, “Every diplomatic assurance was honoured,” he said. The barrister submitted that defence arguments about Assange spending his life in a supermax prison under SAMs were “entirely speculative.” adding that the conditions in these met the requirements of Article 3 of the European Convention Of Human Rights.
Lewis then dismissed the defence argument that the assurances had come too late. “We could start the extradition process all over again, with the assurances,” he said, noting that it was usual only to provide these after a court had expressed concerns.
“These are decided at the highest level, they are not dished out like smarties,” he said adding, “They are a responsible step for an extradition partner to make.”
Lewis continued by saying “My learned friends have completely shifted their ground,” reminding the court that the US government had pledged to allow Assange to serve any sentence in Australia so there was no prospect of him spending the rest of his life in a Supermax prison.
Lewis then ended his submission.
The two judges, The Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett and Lord Justice Holroyd thanked the parties and retired to consider their decision.
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