Biden DOJ appeals British ruling in seeking extradition of Julian Assange

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The Biden administration appealed a British court ruling that Julian Assange should not be extradited to the United States to face criminal charges brought by the Justice Department.

“We can confirm there was a filing appealing the denial and that we intend to continue seeking extradition,” DOJ acting deputy director of public affairs Marc Raimondi told the Washington Examiner on Friday.

Assange, 49, was charged under the 1917 Espionage Act as well as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. If found guilty on all the charges, he faces up to 175 years in prison, though the U.S. had said it would likely only be four to six years.

British Judge Vanessa Baraitser of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court issued a January ruling denying the U.S.’s extradition request, arguing the isolated conditions he would likely face in the U.S. would be “oppressive” and a risk to his mental health. The WikiLeaks founder was “a depressed and sometimes despairing man” who had the “intellect and determination” to circumvent any suicide prevention measures taken by the authorities, Baraitser said.

Assange has been held at the maximum-security Belmarsh prison for over a year, and the coronavirus pandemic slowed the extradition hearings. Baraitser’s role was not to decide guilt but whether the extradition request meets the requirements under the U.S.–U.K. Extradition Treaty of 2003.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, and others urged the Biden administration to drop the extradition efforts and the indictment against Assange, saying that “while our organizations have different perspectives on Mr. Assange and his organization, we share the view that the government’s indictment of him poses a grave threat to press freedom both in the United States and abroad.”

The Justice Department under President Biden nevertheless continued the U.S. pursuit of the case.

Federal prosecutors accused Assange of violating the Espionage Act as part of a superseding indictment in May 2019, charging him on 17 counts in addition to the single count first unsealed in 2019. The Justice Department said those charges “relate to Assange’s alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.”

The U.S. alleges Assange “actively solicited United States classified information, including by publishing a list of ‘Most Wanted Leaks’ that sought, among other things, classified documents” starting in late 2009. Describing Assange as “the public face of WikiLeaks,” the Justice Department said he founded the website with the purpose of it being “an intelligence agency of the people.” The Justice Department said what WikiLeaks published “included names of local Afghans and Iraqis who had provided information to U.S. and coalition forces,” which prosecutors alleged, “created a grave and imminent risk that the innocent people he named would suffer serious physical harm and/or arbitrary detention.”

Assange has not been charged, however, for his organization’s role in exposing the CIA’s “Vault 7” program in 2017, a massive document dump that revealed details about the agency’s electronic surveillance and hacking capabilities, nor was he charged in connection to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

“I find that Mr. Assange’s risk of committing suicide, if an extradition order were to be made, to be substantial,” the British judge ruled in January.

Raimondi said early last month that the Justice Department’s legal efforts under former President Donald Trump would continue.

“While we are extremely disappointed in the court’s ultimate decision, we are gratified that the United States prevailed on every point of law raised,” Raimondi said. “In particular, the court rejected all of Mr. Assange’s arguments regarding political motivation, political offense, fair trial, and freedom of speech.”

Despite rampant speculation, Trump did not pardon the WikiLeaks founder.

“I would argue that it’s closer to being a hi-tech terrorist than the Pentagon Papers,” Biden said in 2010, when he was vice president. “Look, this guy has done things that have damaged and put in jeopardy the lives and occupations of people in other parts of the world. … It has done damage.”

Until his arrest in April 2019, Assange had been granted political asylum for seven years in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, taking refuge there in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning in a sexual assault case, which was later dropped. Assange was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison in May 2019 upon being found guilty of breaking his bail conditions in 2012. However, even after finishing that sentence, he has been kept at Belmarsh prison over concerns about Assange absconding.

Assange’s fiancee, Stella Moris, who says she secretly had two of Assange’s children while he was hiding out in the Ecuadorian Embassy, delivered a statement to the press outside the courthouse in January.

“I had hoped that today would be the day that Julian would come home. Today is not that day, but that day will come soon,” Moris said.

The Justice Department has argued that Assange and his compatriots “recruited and agreed with hackers to commit computer intrusions to benefit WikiLeaks” and “the broadened hacking conspiracy continues to allege that Assange conspired with Army Intelligence Analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a password hash to a classified U.S. Department of Defense computer.” Manning was convicted at a court-martial trial in 2013, and the 35-year sentence was commuted by former President Barack Obama in January 2017.

Assange attorney Barry Pollack said in 2019 that the “unprecedented charges” against his client “demonstrate the gravity of the threat the criminal prosecution of Julian Assange poses to all journalists.”

The Justice Department said in court filings that Manning “provided to Assange and WikiLeaks databases containing approximately 90,000 Afghanistan war-related significant activity reports, 400,000 Iraq war-related significant activities reports, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, and 250,000 U.S. Department of State cables.”

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