Why Extraditing Assange to the US May Take Years
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is fighting an attempt to extradite him to the U.S. where he faces computer hacking charges.
Appearing via video conference while behind bars in the U.K., Assange faced a hearing at the Westminster Court on Thursday where the whistleblower said he would do anything to block his extradition to the U.S.
“I do not wish to surrender myself for extradition for doing journalism that has won many, many awards and protected many people,” Assange replied.
Assange’s extradition trial will progress to another hearing on May 30 with a more substantial hearing to verify evidence is scheduled to be held on June 12.
The U.K. court sentenced Assange to 50 weeks in jail for violating bail provisions by hiding in the Ecuadorean Embassy for seven years before being arrested on April 11. He sought refuge in the embassy building to avoid extradition to Sweden over alleged sexual assault charges (which was later dropped).
Washington has requested Assange be sent to the U.S. to be tried for conspiring with former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack the Pentagon computer network in March 2010. Assange gained worldwide notoriety after leaking classified documents related to U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Manning was once jailed for several years for leaking classified documents to Assange’s Wikileaks and was imprisoned again in March after refusing to testify about the whistleblowing site.
If proven guilty, Assange will face the possibility of a five-year sentence. But Assange is concerned that the U.S. will bring additional, more serious allegations against him.
Is Assange’s Extradition Likely?
Two days after Assange’s arrest in April, an unidentified American government official said that U.S. prosecutors would have around two months to work out an extradition case against the 47-year-old.
U.S. authorities have already sent a provisional arrest warrant to the U.K. for Assange’s extradition to the U.S. However, an anonymous U.S. official told SBS News that the U.S. must propose a formal request within 60 days of Assange’s arrest that outlines all the charges Assange would face if he were transferred to the U.S.
After going through multiple hearings and procedures, the final decision to extradite Assange will rest in the U.K. Home Secretary Sajid Javid will be responsible for giving the final approval to any court order.
The U.S. and the U.K. inked an extradition treaty during the George W.Bush era in 2003. The agreement said a person could not be extradited for political offenses, but it did not explain in more detail what constitutes a political offense.
“Extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense,” the treaty says.
A country can refuse to extradite a person if the request is politically motivated. Assange’s lawyers can use the claim that he is being extradited for political offenses; however, the U.S. has limited the charges against Assange to hacking and are likely to keep the charges as such in order to not encroach on the political offenses territory.
John Bellinger, a former adviser for the U.S. State Department, said that additional charges are possible before the extradition is completed.
“Additional charges may be added before his extradition is sought. But after he is extradited, then the U.S. cannot change the charges later on. That would violate a treaty provision called the rule of specialty. So he could only be tried for the charges for which he is extradited,” Bellinger told NPR in an interview on April 14.
U.N. legal experts already slammed the British government for violating Assange’s human rights by imposing a 50-week sentence on him. Assange can appeal to the European Court of Human Rights arguing that any extradition is a violation of his human rights.
With all of the various potential legal avenues at hand for Assange and the U.S., it could be months to years before Assange’s extradition case is settled.