The U.S. justice department has still to approach the U.K. government about extraditing Julian Assange in spite of one of his lawyers claiming last week that an indictment could be imminent, according to British diplomats.

If the U.S. was about to seek extradition, it is almost certain that the U.S. justice department and other officials would already be sounding out their counterparts in London in detail.

The U.S. attorney-general, Eric Holder, is under enormous political pressure to take action against Mr. Assange but his officials are struggling to find legislation under which to mount a prosecution.

A Congressional committee, the house judiciary committee, on Thursday took evidence from a variety of lawyers about the possibility of a prosecution under the espionage act and the legal and constitutional issues raised by WikiLeaks.

There is a growing consensus among U.S. constitutional lawyers and other legal experts that Mr. Assange will be indicted. But they are doubtful about the chances of extradition from Britain and think it will be harder still from Sweden.

Floyd Abrams, the lawyer who defended the New York Times in the supreme court about the Pentagon papers leak in the 1970s, said on Thursday that the chances of a U.S. indictment against Mr. Assange were better than even. Paul Rosenzweig, a former deputy assistant secretary for policy in the department of homeland security, put the chances higher, at 80%.

One of Assange’s lawyers, Jennifer Robinson, told ABC News last week that an indictment could be imminent.

But a British embassy spokesman in Washington, asked if the U.S. has approached the British government about extradition, said on Thursday: “We do not comment on extradition.” Privately, British diplomats indicated there have been no substantive discussions with the Americans on any impending extradition request.

U.S. lawyers are sceptical about whether Mr. Assange could be prosecuted under the espionage act and suggested the justice department was looking at alternatives.

Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2010

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