England’s High Court Approves Extradition of WikiLeaks Founder for Espionage Trial
LONDON — England’s High Court of Justice on Thursday cleared the way for the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States on espionage charges.
It overruled a lower court’s ruling that blocked extradition because of a risk Assange’s mental health was too fragile to withstand the American criminal justice system.
Assange is wanted by the Justice Department on charges he published classified documents that endangered American soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
He claims to be an advocate for freedom of the press but now faces a prison sentence of as much as 175 years. A more likely sentence would be four to six years in prison, according to the Justice Department.
WikiLeaks is an international nonprofit organization that publishes news leaks and classified information provided by anonymous sources.
In 2010 and 2011, Wikileaks published thousands of documents and videos contributed by former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who also conspired to hack into a Defense Department computer system.
At Manning’s subsequent court martial, the leaks were described as one of the biggest disclosures of classified information in U.S. history. They also were blamed for contributing to American soldiers’ deaths by revealing military tactics to al Qaeda.
Assange said the leaked information exposed abuses by the U.S. military that were a matter of public interest.
During the court hearing in London, attorneys for the U.S. government said they would take Assange’s mental health problems into consideration with his confinement. They gave what the court called solemn assurances the 50-year-old Assange would not be mistreated.
Assange’s attorneys said the U.S. government’s assurances were too “caveated and conditional” to be believed.
They said the Justice Department retained authority to put Assange in isolation if government officials thought he represented a national security risk. They also said there is evidence the U.S. government already demonstrated it sought to hurt Assange, possibly including assassination.
In handing down the judgment, Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, said the risk that U.S. mistreatment might aggravate Assange’s poor mental health “is in our judgment excluded by the assurances which are offered.”
Assange’s supporters immediately criticized the judgment as flawed. His fiancé, Stella Moris, said the WikiLeaks founder would appeal.
“Julian represents all our liberties and all our rights,” Moris said while talking to the media outside the courthouse.
WikiLeaks editor Kristinn Hrafnsson said in a statement, “Julian’s life is once more under grave threat, and so is the right of journalists to publish material that governments and corporations find inconvenient.”
He added, “This is about the right of a free press to publish without being threatened by a bullying superpower.”
The case is Government of the United States of America v. Assange, case number CO/150/2021, in the Administrative Court, Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice of England and Wales.
Tom can be reached at email@example.com.
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