ASSANGE: A Tale of Three Extraditions

Three extradition cases in the UK illustrate how the U.S. dominates Britain, but Julian Assange’s best chance to go free is to show that this time Washington has gone too far, Joe Lauria reports.

By Joe Lauria
in London

Special to Consortium News

The formal extradition hearing that will determine whether imprisoned WikiLeaks publish Julian Assange is sent to the United States to stand trail on Espionage Act charges began here on Monday against the backdrop of U.S. domination of Britain in two other extradition cases. They could impact the decision on Assange as his lawyers argue his political case violates the U.S.-UK extradition treaty.   

There is simmering anger in Britain over the death last August of 19-year old Harry Dunn after Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a U.S. intelligence agent based in Northamptonshire, turned into the wrong lane and mowed Dunn down on his motorbike.

Saccolas, whom the Mail on Sunday identified as formerly with the CIA, fled Britain back to the U.S. The Crown Prosecution Service charged her in Dunn’s death, but the U.S. refused to extradite her back to Britain, claiming she had diplomatic immunity. She had no official role in the UK.

The Mail on Sunday reported Sunday that Dunn’s parents had been to see British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab last month and told him Britain should not extradite Assange to the U.S. until Saccolas is extradited to the UK.  The newspaper quoted Dunn’s family lawyer, Radd Seiger, as saying:

“‘Despite its disgraceful refusal to extradite Anne Sacoolas, the US continues to seek the extradition of people in the UK such as Julian Assange. In doing so, they are demonstrating an extraordinary amount of hypocrisy.’

‘As Dominic Raab told us when we met with him on January 27, ‘we are reviewing all options.’ We want him now to exercise the option of not extraditing Julian Assange to the US.’”

With the U.S. refusing to extradite Sacoolas, while demanding at the same time the extradition of Assange, the question of British sovereignty rises to the fore. It is a moment for Britain to show it has the backbone and self-respect to stand up to the United States as an independent nation. The coincidence of the three cases could add pressure from the public on the British courts to link them, providing a possible opening for Assange. 

The [Sacoolas] case is a demonstration of the imbalanced nature of the U.S.-UK extradition treaty,” said Assange lawyer Jen Robinson at a press conference on Tuesday. “That the US is refusing to extradite someone who has been accused of having killed a British teenager in circumstances in which the UK seems ready and willing to extradite a publisher who has won numerous awards for having published information is a pretty stark contrast.”

A Second Case

The Saccolas case came after Home Secretary Priti Patel acceded to a U.S. extradition request earlier this month of British businessman Mike Lynch on a fraud charge. “Her decision opened up Tory divisions, with former Cabinet Minister David Davis using an article in The Mail on Sunday … to brand the US-UK extradition arrangements ‘a bad treaty’” the newspaper reported.  It said:

“Mr Davis accuses Ms Patel of ‘spiriting’ Mr Lynch away to America before the verdict and says the decision shows how the extradition treaty is skewed too heavily in favour of America, while doing little to protect Britons.

‘When the US Department of Justice requests the extradition of a UK citizen, we effectively have no choice but to cough them up,’ he writes.

But when UK authorities want to extradite an American ‘the US Secretary of State ‘may’ process the request. What the US ‘may’ choose to do was made crystal clear in the recent case of Anne Sacoolas and the death of Harry Dunn.'”

“The US prosecutors have no requirement to prove their case beyond stating ‘reasonable suspicion’, and there is no prima facie consideration of the charges in the UK,” Davis wrote. “Conversely, for the UK to extradite from the US, we have to clear a higher burden of demonstrating ‘probable cause’, which – unlike in the UK – can be challenged in the courts.”  

Question  Time

Question Time. (Wikipedia)

These cases gave outgoing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn an opening to ask Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Question Time on Feb. 12 whether there was a fair relationship between the U.S. and Britain in regard to extradition cases.  Corbyn called the extradition treaty with the U.S. “one-sided.” 

“This lop-sided treaty means the U.S. can request extraditions in circumstances that Britain cannot. While the U.S. continues to deny justice to Harry Dunn, will the prime minister commit today to seek an equal and balanced extradition relationship with the United States?”

Johnson, shrewdly aware, no doubt, of Britons’ anger over Sacoolas case, gave a somewhat surprising, and for Assange supporters, encouraging answer. “To be frank I think the honorable gentleman has a point in his characterization of our extradition arrangements with the United States, and I do think there are elements of that relationship that are imbalanced and I certainly think they are worth looking at,” Johnson said. 

Corbyn responded:

“This deep disparity with the U.S. is about to be laid bare when the courts decide whether the WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange will be extradited to the U.S. on charges of espionage for exposing war crimes, the murder of civilians and large scale corruption. … Will the prime minister agree with the parliamentary report that is going to the Council of Europe that this extradition should be opposed and the rights of journalists and whistleblowers be upheld for the good of all of us?”

Johnson replied: “I’m not going to comment on any individual case, but it is obvious that the rights of journalists and whistleblowers should be upheld and this government will clearly continue to do that.”

Legal Strategy

Woolwich Crown Court, where Assange will be tried on the extradition request. (Joe Lauria)

If Johnson’s apparent open-mindedness regarding Assange is at all reflected in District Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s decision, then Assange’s likely two-prong legal strategy could stand a chance. The first prong is that Assange is being charged for a political offense.

Article 4, Section 1 of the U.S.-Britain extradition treaty says: “Extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense.” 

At the final case management hearing at Westminster Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday Assange’s lawyers made clear, as they have before, that the WikiLeaks‘ publishers’ case is unequivocally political as he is being punished for publishing classified material that has been politically embarrassing to the United States.

His lawyers introduced the notion on Wednesday at Westminster Magistrate’s Court that Donald Trump was willing to do a deal with Assange, an indication of the political nature of the case.  “This is a highly politicized case and it has been from the outset,” said WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson at a press conference here last Tuesday, covered by CN Live!

“It was political in 2010 when high-level officials and commentators called for the taking down of WikiLeaks, it was political when people were calling out for the assassination of Julian Assange, and in light of recent events in Iraq one should take this seriously.

It was political Mike Pompeo, then CIA director in 2017, decided to depict WikiLeaks as a ‘non-state hostile intelligence service.’  That was a step to take down Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

The case was political when [U.S. Vice President Mike] Pence traveled to Ecuador … to broker a deal … for Julian Assange in exchange for $10 billion of loans from the IMF. So this is a very political case. Julian Assange is a political prisoner. What’s at stake is not just the life of Julian Assange. … It is the future of journalism.”

(Video: Cathy Vogan)

That this is a political case was reinforced by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell outside Belmarsh Prison after he visited Assange on Thursday. “I think this is one of the most important, significant political trials of this generation,” McDonnell said. “I think it’s the Dreyfus case of our age. The way in which a person is being persecuted for political reasons for simply exposing the truth in relation to recent wars. We are hoping that in court he will be able to defeat the extradition bid. We don’t believe extradition should be used for political purposes.”   

In response to a question from Consortium News, McDonnell said: “If his extradition takes place it will damage the democratic standing of our own country as well as America. We have a long tradition in this country of standing up for journalistic freedom. “

(Video: Cathy Vogan)

The Queen’s Letter  

Her Majesty it appears inadvertently handed Assange’s defense a key argument that his case is political. After activist Chris Lonsdale wrote to the monarch asking her to intervene on Assange’s behalf, a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman wrote back saying that as “constitutional Sovereign, Her Majesty acts on the advice of her Ministers and remains strictly non-political at all times. This is, therefore, not a matter in which The Queen would intervene.”  In other words, it’s a political case.

Eavesdropping on the Defense

The second prong of the legal strategy is to argue that the prosecuting government eavesdropped on privileged discussions between the defendant and his attorneys while he was in exile inside the Ecuadorian embassy.  In a normal case that would be grounds for immediate dismissal of the case. 

Spanish prosecutors have determined that a Spanish company, UC Global, was contracted by the Ecuadorian government to surveil Assange, and that the company then gave access to the video surveillance to the Central Intelligence Agency. The story was first broken by the Spanish daily El Pais. Judge Baraitser ruled on Wednesday that this evidence will be admissible at Assange’s hearing.

Widening Support

Assange supporters march on Parliament. (Joe Lauria)

As Assange’s case began in earnest on Monday in Woolwich Crown Court on the grounds of Belmarsh Prison, where he is being held, support is growing among politicians, journalists, jurists, doctors and the general public.

On Tuesday two Australian members of parliament traveled here to visit Assange.  At the same press conference Hrafnsson spoke at, the Australian politicians, who are part of a parliamentary committee in support of Assange, called for Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to intervene to bring the WikiLeaks publish home to Australia.

“This will establish a precedent that if you are a journalist who does anything that offends any government in the world then you face the very real prospect of being extradited to that country,” said MP Andrew Wilkie, a former whistleblower. “This is a political case and what is at stake is not just the life of Julian Assange. It is about the future of journalism.”

“I hope that Boris Johnson withdraws this case that is before the courts,” MP George Christensen said. “There is a problem here … What if it was a British journalist or an outspoken British citizen who went on holiday to another country that has an extradition treaty with China, and China wanted to extradite that British citizen?” 

CN Live! afterward interviewed Christensen:

(Video: Cathy Vogan)

Last week 1,200 journalists released a petition calling for Assange’s release. It read in part:

“All journalists use information from confidential sources so the legal actions are an extremely dangerous precedent that threatens the world’s journalists and news media. The signatories believe Assange’s imprisonment and the court proceedings are a gross miscarriage of Justice.”

They also wrote:

“We urge our fellow journalists to inform the public accurately about this abuse of fundamental rights. We urge all journalists to speak up in defense of Julian Assange at this critical time. Dangerous times call for fearless journalism.”

This came after Doctors for Assange increased their pressure by publishing a letter in the leading British medical journal The Lancet, calling for immediate health care in a university hospital for Assange. Three hundred thousand citizens have also called for Assange not to be extradited.  Amnesty International, after long remaining silent, came out in his defense last week, as did Reporters Without Borders.

And on Saturday, about 1,000 supporters marched from Australia House to Parliament Square here. As the march passed by No. 10 Downing Street, a letter was delivered to Johnson from jurists around the world decrying abuses of law against Assange.   

Among the speakers at the rally were musician Roger Waters, Assange’s father John Shipton, writer Tariq Ali, former British envoy Craig Murray, Greek economist and activist Yanis Varoufakis and Hrafnsson.

Varoufakis later spoke to Consortium News.

(Video: Cathy Vogan)

Assange faces 175 years in an American prison if he is extradited and convicted in the U.S. of espionage. 

(Video: Joe Lauria)

(Video: Joe Lauria)

(Video: Joe Lauria)

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers.  He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe .

23 comments for “ASSANGE: A Tale of Three Extraditions

  1. A
    February 28, 2020 at 17:38

    This article discusses the issue of UK “sovereignty”.
    Another issue is Australian sovereignty.
    It is strange that the Australian government has not made one peep of dismay or disapproval at the clearly unjust and malicious prosecution of one of their citizens by the US and UK governments.
    I suggest the Australian government has no spine and little (if any) sovereignty.

  2. Southern
    February 26, 2020 at 20:02

    Have any of you ever wondered what this mysterious and sadistic Baraitser actually looks like?

    She appears like a ghost – there are no images to be found on the web to discover what she actually looks like.

    What if we could alert all checkout operators in England to be on the lookout for any electronic transaction cards with the name of the magistrate in question and subsequently use security footage to reveal to the world what she actually looks like.

  3. jmg
    February 26, 2020 at 14:30

    Another unforgettable UK extradition case that was discussed on Consortium News and we can remember now:

    The UK extradition cases of Julian Assange and Augusto Pinochet

    – Assange: Investigative journalist and publisher of whistleblowers’ information of public interest for human rights.
    – Pinochet: Mass murderer and torturer, ended democracy in Chile with a coup d’etat, dictator for almost two decades.

    Charges in extradition requests:

    – Assange: 18 US federal charges related to collaboration with a whistleblower to publish war crimes that had been covered up by illegal classification.
    – Pinochet: 94 counts of torture of Spanish citizens, the 1975 assassination of Spanish UN diplomat Carmelo Soria, etc.

    Who called upon the British government to release them:

    – Assange: UN working group on arbitrary detention, American Civil Liberties Union, Committee to Protect Journalists, multiple media organizations on First Amendment grounds, Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, and many more.
    – Pinochet: Former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former US President George H. W. Bush, far-right Chileans.

    Situation during extradition proceedings:

    – Assange: Small cell in Belmarsh High Security Prison, denied a computer, very restricted visits by his lawyers, can’t prepare his own defense.
    – Pinochet: Under house arrest in a comfortable rented house, living with wife, visited by Margaret Thatcher.

    When ill health:

    – Assange: Moved to solitary confinement in the health ward of Belmarsh prison. UK Home Secretary, former banker Sajid Javid, signs US extradition request.
    – Pinochet: Released by UK Home Secretary Jack Straw. Upon arrival at the Chilean airport, ill health suddenly disappears.

    Pinochet’s return to Chile after his release in London for alleged ill health:

    Retorno de Pinochet (2000) — REC ONLINE — YouTube

    See also:

    Power Versus the Press: The Extradition Cases of Pinochet & Assange — Consortium News — June 28, 2019

    From Pinochet To Assange: A Tale Of Two Extraditions — The Greanville Post — June 15, 2018

    Did the dictator dupe us? | World news | The Guardian | 5 Mar 2000

  4. David Roberts
    February 26, 2020 at 03:55

    There was a case recently of a British “beauty therapist” who directly caused the death of a US citizen in New York whilst working illegally there. A deal was done where she would only serve a year for this, a situation the judge described as “getting away with murder”. How do Assange’s “crimes” compare to this.

    • David Roberts
      February 26, 2020 at 03:57

      I forgot to mention that this deal was done relative to the extradition

  5. Chris Kinder
    February 24, 2020 at 23:42

    Amongst all the other illegal atrocities and wrongs being visited upon Julian Assange, I heard John Pilger on a radio interview in the US (KPFA, Bay Area) reporting on the extradition case now in the court in Belmarsh prison, London, report that the US-hired barrister asserted that mere possession of (secret) government documents was “now” a crime! If true, this would directly criminalize all the journalists (NY Times, Washington Post, Guardian, etc) who published government documents provided by Wikileaks! I know this extradition case was designed to prevent future leaks from being published, but I didn’t know that simple possession of government documents was made illegal recently. What is the story here? – Chris Kinder, Oakland CA

      February 25, 2020 at 22:49

      Chris, it was made illegal in 1917 when the Espionage Act was passed.

  6. Sam F
    February 24, 2020 at 21:45

    As I recall the US sought to extradite Kim Dotcom from Australia on far more than “probable cause” that he had violated copyrights, made illegal wire transfers etc. The US had what amounted to proof and yet Australia refused to extradite him.

    Can Australia extradite its own Mr. Assange to deny extradition to the US from UK?
    Can UK agree to send Mr. Assange to Australia rather than the US?
    Does Australia have the courage?

  7. February 24, 2020 at 20:04

    For those who value further informed factual insights into this and related current events
    As Usual,

  8. Cocaine Maniac
    February 24, 2020 at 18:49

    Any linking of Dunn’s and Assange’s cases is an extremely awful idea. Let’s say that notion gains traction, then the US actually sends Sacoolas over. That gives unnecessary rhetorical ammunition to then sending Assange. And let’s say this was seen as a sort of prisoner swap/trade situation–I think it’s obvious the US would love to send Sacooras if it meant they’d get to torture and kill Assange and put him on a show trial (mostly secret of course).

    It’s also a terrible idea to conflate the two alleged crimes which are nothing at all alike.

    No one should ever mention both cases together as if either should have any effect at all on the other. Don’t do it!!!

  9. Brian Eggar
    February 24, 2020 at 18:16

    Reading one of the comments, I had forgotten that the extradition treaty was a Blair Bush concoction.

    Wouldn’t it be nice in a perfect world for all ex heads of state and those who have committed war crimes to have a simple and fast track system to ship them off to the Hague to face justice. Blair could go for a start.

    As everybody asks why do those who commit war crimes get exonerated whilst those who report and expose such actions are faced with a lifetime prison sentence?

    Thinking about Extinction Rebellion, I was wondering if the same tactics might be used to free Assange. What I envisage is for a collective group to create a mass grid lock by stopping their vehicles and switching on their hazard lights at pre arranged spots and times.

    It was strange, I was trying to find a “Free Assange” bumper sticker but the only one I could find was from Australia so I ordered it from there. Maybe one or two of the British newspapers might think of putting such a sticker in with the paper.

  10. February 24, 2020 at 11:13

    I think the Brits should free Assange and kick American diplomats out of Great Britan. The fact that leaders in both the Democrat and Republuc parties want to prosecute Assange and keep Manning in prison leads me to believe the US continues to prove its a country bent on murdering its problems since the genocide of America Natives.

    • Francesco
      February 25, 2020 at 10:59

      I think all the Western countries should kick the Americans out of their countries. Enough with this stupid ancient unequal and pathetic servility. In a perfect world America should be still 2/3 British and 1/3 French.

      History tells us who to blame for this. If the French would not have helped the American revolutionaries against the British that would still be UK as it should.

      Instead of the insane dictatorship and tyranny that the US cast on all the world population we would have a democratic and civilized government ruling the oversea colony of British America.

  11. Tim
    February 24, 2020 at 10:18

    > gave a somewhat surprising, and for Assange supporters, encouraging answer.

    Not all that surprising, in view of the fact that this treaty was pushed through under New Labour prime minister BLiar; so Johnson may welcome the opportunity for a few snide remarks.

  12. Proudly Unaffiliated
    February 24, 2020 at 08:40

    As someone who views Julian Assange as the hero of our time for the entire world, I believe he needs to be extradited to the US. Mainly, he is needed in the US to clear up a lot of nonsense that has been promulgated to distract from several seditious acts, including illegally spying on and then attempting to illegally remove President Trump from office. But the multiple criminal cover-ups go much further. For example, the entire “Russia hacked the DNC server” is a complete lie and Assange can put it all to bed and shine light on who was behind the murder of Seth Rich. In short, JA is needed to greatly help the US put a fatal dagger in the heart of the deep state world-wide cabal. He is trusted and beloved by many that his testimony will be monumental.

    Of course, JA has suffered greatly and will suffer more. This is very painful to watch. And we know that many evil people want him dead now, it is a miracle he is still alive. But fate is odd and his actions have been so critical in shaping world events to date, that he has a mission to complete. I wish Julian Assange Godspeed and success in bringing these most important truths to the world.

    • Skip Scott
      February 24, 2020 at 12:14

      You are delusional if you think Assange would be afforded that kind of opportunity while on trial in the eastern district court in Virginia, or that the MSM lackeys of the “Intel” Agencies would allow any serious coverage of the issues you mention. You should review articles here at CN by John Kiriakou. He has personal knowledge of what to expect from our “justice” system.

      Julian’s only hope for long term survival is for extradition to the USA to be refused, and then for him to immediately go underground with a new identity. He could still be active in Wikileaks from an undisclosed location. I too wish for him to put a fatal dagger into the heart of the deep state, but he better really watch his “six” once he’s free.

    • Andrew Thomas
      February 24, 2020 at 12:53

      I might agree with Proudly Unaffiliated if I believed there was any possibility that he could speak freely once extradited, and if any of these specific charges had to do with the Russian hack (they don’t), or if there was any possibility of his getting a fair trial in the Eastern District of Virginia (there isn’t) or if there is any chance he would even be allowed to present a case there. As to the last, I would suggest looking at the writings and interviews of John Kiriakou. Under these circumstances, unlike the ones assumed in your comment, which assume in their turn a US legal system which once existed to some extent, but no longer does, I am hoping against hope that Julian Assange avoids extradition and lives long enough to live somewhere in the future free of fear for his life.

    • TimN
      February 24, 2020 at 13:02

      I agree, but Assange will not be seen in public and very likely will be tortured or drugged. The “trial” will be a joke, held in secret so that “sources and methods” aren’t revealed. The CIA wants to know who gave him the Vault 7 stuff and the DNC emails. The US ruling class at this point couldn’t care less about the law or appearances, and despite BoJo’s remarks, I’m afraid he will go along with this outrage.

    • rosemerry
      February 24, 2020 at 15:36

      There is no way that Julian or any other human can withstand 175 years in a US prison. It simply means that he will die in prison, probably even before a “trial” which has no hope of being even remotely fair.

      ‘Article 4, Section 1 of the U.S.-Britain extradition treaty says: “Extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense.” ‘ Notice the US priority and spelling.
      Surely the Queen’s polite response makes clear that this is a bogus prosecution.

    • jmg
      February 26, 2020 at 07:02

      > his testimony will be monumental.

      I’m afraid public testimony won’t be allowed. The US government says it will conduct secret proceedings in Assange’s case.

      “We have now learnt from submissions and affidavits presented by the US… that they do not consider foreign nationals to have a First Amendment protection. . . .
      “If Assange is extradited he will immediately be placed under ‘Special Administrative Measures’. That means that he will not be able to speak to the press or the public, and neither will his legal team. He will be put in a black hole.”

      (Assange Extradition Hearings Scheduled as Assault on Press Freedom Spreads — Nozomi Hayase — Consortium News — January 27, 2020)

      “As for supporting me if I am extradited, I would say that it would be way too late. If people want to support us, they need to do it before I am extradited . . . Even if they’re technically innocent under the law, which probably anyone within WikiLeaks is — as I know that our activities are protected under the First Amendment — the verdict is still not guaranteed, due to of the degree of national security sector influence in the judicial process.”
      — Julian Assange, June 15, 2011

      (In Conversation with Julian Assange, Part II — Hans Ulrich Obrist — e-flux journal, 26)

  13. Liane Franck
    February 23, 2020 at 22:53

    The family of Harry Dunn deserves justice for his tragic death. But the “deal” they suggest does not help Assange’s case for it equates criminal behavior on the part of Sacoolas with the multinational vendetta against a man who is imprisoned for publishing the truth.

    • SRH
      February 24, 2020 at 05:39

      Possibly, but not necessarily. They are highlighting the imbalance of power in the extradition agreement. The two cases do not have to be similar in nature for this injustice to become apparent.

    • rosemerry
      February 24, 2020 at 15:41

      Correct, and I understand that the wording of contracts of “intelligence officials” sent by the USA to the UK does specify that they are not culpable for any crimes they commit on UK soil. (rather like the military forces sent uninvited to Syria and elsewhere.)

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