To fight its appeal, the U.S. is now promising not to put Julian Assange in Special Administrative Measures isolation and to allow him to be imprisoned in Australia if convicted.
By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News
Seeking to overturn a judgement against extraditing WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, the United States has told the High Court in London that it would not put Assange in harsh isolation measures in the U.S. and that if convicted he could serve his sentence in his native Australia.
A district judge in Magistrate’s Court on Jan. 4 ruled against sending Assange to the U.S. because his mental condition put him at serious risk of suicide if he were kept in isolation in an American prison. The High Court Wednesday allowed the U.S. a limited appeal of that decision only on the issue of U.S. prison conditions and not on Assange’s mental health.
In its submission through its British prosecutors to the High Court, rather than argue its prisons were not unusually harsh, the U.S. Department of Justice promised not to put Assange in Special Administrative Measures (SAMS) while in the U.S. and that if convicted, he could serve his sentence in an Australian prison, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, citing excerpts provided by the Crown Prosecution Service.
The U.S. appeared to understand that it could make no argument in court that its prison system is not inhumane. In granting leave to appeal, the High Court apparently found some merit in these U.S. promises.
The U.S. has a history of broken promises in such cases. For example, in the September 2020 Assange extradition hearing, lawyer Lindsay A. Lewis testified that the UK had imposed this condition for humanitarian reasons on Abu Hamza, a prisoner who had lost both hands, but once on U.S. soil, Hamza was placed in isolation.
Assange faces 175 years in prison on 17 charges of violating the Espionage Act and one charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion in the course of his work publishing U.S. state secrets that revealed prima facie evidence of war crimes and corruption.
SAMS are conditions of detention that severely prevents a prisoner from having direct human contact, even with his or her attorneys. It limits a prisoner to one telephone call per month. Communications with an attorney through an opening in a wall can be monitored by the prison.
The U.S. filed its appeal of the Jan. 4 judgement on the last two days of Donald Trump’s presidency and the Biden administration has decided to continue to pursue the appeal.
“The U.S. has given the U.K. a package of assurances that Mr. Assange won’t be held at ADX, a maximum-security federal penitentiary in Colorado, or subjected to extra security measures, according to the excerpts of the ruling, potentially removing a key impediment to his potential extradition,” the Journal reported.
Defense expert witnesses testified in Assange’s extradition hearing last September about the harsh conditions at ADX as well as in isolation at the Alexandria Detention Center in Virginia, where Assange would be held during his trial.
The gambit to promise Assange would not face extreme prison conditions in the U.S., and that he could serve his time in a less inhumane prison in Australia, underscores Washington’s desperation to have Assange sent to the United States.
The Journal reported that it was a break with usual policy, which would be to offer to send Assange to Australia after conviction rather than before a trial had even begun. In its submission to the High Court, the U.S. said it still reserved the right to put Assange in a super-max prison under special measures if “he were to do something subsequent to the offering of these assurances.”
A defense witness who worked in the U.S. government helping to determine where a prisoner was sent said that the Central Intelligence Agency would have a hand in that decision.
Though District Judge Vanessa Baraitser on Jan. 4 said she was discharging Assange, she then denied him bail and threw him back into Belmarsh Prison where he has languished since April 2019. He will remain there until the appeal is heard. No date for an appeal hearing has yet been set.
BREAKING: Julian Assange's fiancée @StellaMoris1 gives powerful statement outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London. "This case is the most vicious attack on global press freedom in history." #AssangeCase #FreeAssange pic.twitter.com/U5tq5fIMcA
— Don't Extradite Assange (@DEAcampaign) July 7, 2021
Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former UN correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London and began his professional career as a stringer for The New York Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @unjoe