The U.S. appeal hearing against the ruling not to extradite Julian Assange began in Courtroom 4 at the Royal Courts of Justice. Consortium News has video access to the court.
By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News
A prosecutor for the United States on Wednesday laid out the reason why the judgement not to extradite imprisoned WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange should be overturned.
James Lewis QC argued before the High Court in London that the U.S. had not had the opportunity to present assurances to the lower court that Assange would not be put in extreme isolation if extradited to the U.S.; that the lower court judgement was not based on Assange’s current risk of suicide but on a prediction of what would happen if extradited; and that the defense was wrong to dismiss the U.S assurances as untrustworthy.
The question of whether the U.S. had the chance to give its assurances before lower court Judge Vanessa Baraitser barred Assange’s extradition on Jan. 4because of high risk of suicide in an inhumane U.S. prison became central to the morning’s proceedings.
The bench interjected, asking Lewis to answer to the defense’s contention that the prosecution should have made their assurances that Assange would not be put into Special Administrative Measures if sent to the U.S. before Baraitser issued her judgement.
“It was our position that it was highly unlikely he would ever be put in SAMS so opportunity never arose” during the case in magistrate’s court, Lewis said. “These assurances can be given at any time in these proceedings.”
Essentially Lewis said the prosecution did not think of it and was not expecting Baraitser to put so much weight on the possibility of SAMS in determining that it would exacerbate’s Assange’s risk of suicide.
Lewis rejected the defense’s contention that the U.S assurances cannot be trusted. He said there had never been a case where Britain complained to the United States that assurances it was given in an extradition had not been fulfilled.
Lewis argued that the assurance that Assange would not be held in isolation in Alexandria Detention Center and would not be subject to SAMS if convicted effectively destroyed a pillar of Baraitser’s judgement.
Another part of her decision not to extradite was faulty, Lewis contended, because the European law upon which she based it requires an assessment of the current mental state of the suspect and not what it be at a time when he might arrive in the U.S.
“A key part of our argument is that the district judge did not base her judgement on Mr. Assange’s current mental state,” Lewis said. “We can’t go into this crystal ball approach.”
Baraitser had also discounted suicide preventive measures in U.S. prison, Lewis said, pointing out that prison suicide rates are higher in the U.K. than in the U.S.
“This cannot be a proper way to deal with extradition procedures because it assumes no treatment can reduce the risk of suicide,” Lewis said. “There is a risk that that approach by the district judge means no one can ever leave [be extradited] if an individual has the ability to circumvent those measures.”
The prosecutor again said that Assange did not “even come close” in his current state to having the kind of illness that would prevent his extradition.
Another thing that can’t be predicted is the length of the sentence Assange might receive, Lewis told the court. He rejected statements made by the defense that Assange would effectively receive a life sentence because he faces a potential 175 years in prison. The maximum sentence ever given for the offense that Assange is charged with is 63 months, Lewis said.
“The district judge is focused on the ability to get around measures as opposed to preventive measures and treatment,” he said. “If one can circumvent them it becomes a trump card which cannot be dealt with by the requesting state…even if their measures are 100 times better than U.K.”
“The approach by the district judge is to erect a barrier to extradition that can’t be met by our extradition partners,” Lewis said.
The prosecution’s case continues in the afternoon.