The UK High Court ruled Friday, Dec. 10, that Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to stand trial for espionage. They overturned a lower court ruling earlier this year that blocked his extradition on defense arguments alleging Assange’s fragile mental health. However, if subjected to a high-security prison or possible solitary confinement as a form of punishment, he could commit suicide.
Two UK judges authorized the extradition after the U.S. government gave assurances that Assange would not be mistreated.
In their ruling Lord Burnett, the presiding High Court judge and Lord Justice Holroyd dismissed the argument that Assange’s life is in danger in the United States on the grounds that the American government gave assurances that he will not be placed in a maximum security prison, nor subjected to solitary confinement, as well as guaranteeing that the WikiLeaks founder will be able to serve his sentence in his home country of Australia.
According to Daily Mail, explaining the ruling, Lord Burnett said, “That risk is in our judgment excluded by the assurances which are offered. It follows that we are satisfied that, if the assurances had been before the judge, she would have answered the relevant question differently.”
The judgment will be sent to the home secretary, Priti Patel, who will have the final say in deciding whether or not Assange is extradited.
Assange’s lawyer, Dr. Stella Morris who also has two children by him, said she will appeal the decision to the last instance and criticized the court’s decision, reiterating fears that Assange will take his own life under the deal in the United States.
“We will appeal this decision at the earliest possible moment,” Ms. Morris said. “How can it be fair, how can it be right, how can it be possible, to extradite Julian to the very country which plotted to kill him?
“I want to emphasise that the High Court accepted all the medical evidence and the conclusions of the magistrate that if Julian is extradited and placed under extreme conditions of isolation it will drive him to take his own life, that extradition is oppressive,” Morris added.
Those defending the WikiLeaks founder say his case is one in which freedom of the press is at stake, because they consider that the information Assange published exposes the CIA and its clandestine operations where people are killed at will without trial and exposed U.S. war crimes.
But the U.S. government accuses Assange of espionage and of having endangered the lives of many by revealing military secrets.
In 2010, Wikileaks released more than half a million secret military files detailing the campaigns in the war against Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a video showing an Apache helicopter shooting and killing a dozen civilians in Baghdad.
Assange conspired with a former Army intelligence officer, Bradley Manning (who later became Chelsea Manning) who stole the information from Army databases using a fake Lady Gaga CD to obtain the secret military files.
Obama pardoned Manning who was finally released in March 2020.
In 2012 to avoid prosecution in the United States, Assange sought and obtained political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in the United Kingdom where he stayed until 2019, when he was taken to a British prison for violating the conditions of his parole.
In 2019 Assange’s legal team asked former President Trump to reveal what the charges against him were, but Trump did not get involved.
Last year, a U.S. grand jury found Assange guilty of 17 counts of espionage and although the defense says the sentence would involve more than 170 years in prison, the U.S. government assured it would be no more than six years.
Assange’s case bears a strong similarity to Edward Snowden, a former employee of the National Security Agency (NSA). Snowdon published classified information about surveillance programs used by the U.S. government to monitor ordinary citizens, calling into question the extent to which people’s privacy is guaranteed.
Unlike Assange, Snowden sought political asylum in Russia where he currently resides, and due to the enmity between the two nations, he is unlikely to be extradited.