U.S. authorities launched a new battle on Wednesday to make Julian Assange face American justice , telling British judges that if they agree to extradite the WikiLeaks founder on espionage charges, he could serve any U.S. prison sentence he receives in his native Australia.
In January, a lower U.K. court refused a U.S. request to extradite Mr. Assange over WikiLeaks’ publication of secret American military documents a decade ago. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled that Mr. Assange, who has spent years in hiding and in British prisons as he fights extradition, was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions.
Appealing against the January decision, an attorney for the U.S. government denied that Mr. Assange’s mental health was too fragile to withstand the U.S. judicial system. Lawyer James Lewis said Mr. Assange “has no history of serious and enduring mental illness” and does not meet the threshold of being so ill that he cannot resist harming himself.
No ‘Supermax’ prison
U.S. prosecutors have indicted Mr. Assange on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of leaked military and diplomatic documents. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison, although Mr. Lewis said “the longest sentence ever imposed for this offence is 63 months.”
Mr. Lewis said American authorities had promised that Mr. Assange would not be held before trial in a top-security “Supermax” prison or subjected to strict isolation conditions.Mr. Lewis said the assurances “are binding on the U.S.”
“Once there is an assurance of appropriate medical care, once it is clear he will be repatriated to Australia to serve any sentence, then we can safely say the district judge would not have decided the relevant question in the way that she did," he said.
The U.S. also says a key defence witness, neuropsychiatrist Michael Kopelman, misled the previous judge by omitting to mention that Stella Moris, a member of WikiLeaks’ legal team, was also Mr. Assange’s partner and had two children with him. Mr. Lewis said that information was “a highly relevant to the question of likelihood to suicide.”