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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 2/17/20

Extradition of Assange Would Set a Dangerous Precedent

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From Truthout

Julian Assange
Julian Assange
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The Trump administration is seeking extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States for trial on charges carrying 175 years in prison. On February 24, a court in the U.K. will hold a hearing to determine whether to grant Trump's request. The treaty between the U.S. and the U.K. prohibits extradition for a "political offense." Assange was indicted for exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is a classic political offense. Moreover, Assange's extradition would violate the legal prohibition against sending a person to a country where he is in danger of being tortured.

WikiLeaks Exposed Evidence of U.S. War Crimes

In 2010 and 2011, WikiLeaks published classified documents provided by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. They contained 90,000 reports about the war in Afghanistan, including the Afghan War Logs, which documented more civilian casualties by coalition forces than the U.S. military had previously reported.

WikiLeaks also published nearly 400,000 field reports about the Iraq War, which contained evidence of U.S. war crimes, over 15,000 previously unreported deaths of Iraqi civilians, and the systematic murder, torture, rape and abuse by the Iraqi army and authorities that were ignored by U.S. forces.

In addition, WikiLeaks published the Guanta'namo Files, 779 secret reports that revealed the U.S. government's systematic violation of the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, by abusing nearly 800 men and boys, ages 14 to 89.

One of the most notorious releases by WikiLeaks was the 2007 "Collateral Murder" video, which showed a U.S. Army Apache helicopter target and fire on unarmed civilians in Baghdad. More than 12 civilians were killed, including two Reuters reporters and a man who came to rescue the wounded. Two children were injured. Then a U.S. Army tank drove over one of the bodies, severing it in half. Those acts constitute three separate war crimes prohibited by the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Army Field Manual.

Manning was arrested in 2010 and held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day for 11 months. She was forced to stand nude during daily inspections. The former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture said her treatment was cruel, inhuman and degrading, and possibly constituted torture. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison, and after she had served seven years, Barack Obama commuted her sentence as he left office.

Two years later, in May 2019, Manning was jailed for refusing to answer questions before a grand jury about Assange and WikiLeaks. She remains in custody.

On December 31, 2019, Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, released a letter he had sent to the U.S. government expressing "serious concern at the reported use of coercive measures against Ms. Manning, particularly given the history of her previous conviction and ill-treatment in detention." He said her incarceration amounted to torture and urged that she be released without delay.

Two days later, Manning pledged to stay the course, saying, "My long-standing objection to the immoral practice of throwing people in jail without charge or trial, for the sole purpose of forcing them to testify before a secret, government-run investigative panel, remains strong."

Assange Faces 175 Years in Prison If Extradited to the U.S.

Meanwhile, Sweden issued an arrest warrant in 2010 for Assange on alleged rape and sexual molestation charges. Assange was questioned by Swedish prosecutors and then left for the U.K., where he was arrested and later released on house arrest. After Sweden's request for extradition of Assange was granted by the U.K. Supreme Court in 2012, he was given asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he lived for seven years. A new Ecuadorian government revoked Assange's asylum in April 2019 and allowed U.K. authorities to enter the embassy and arrest him.

In 2017, Sweden dropped its investigation of Assange. On May 1, 2019, he was sentenced to 50 weeks in jail by the U.K. court for jumping bail and now faces extradition to the United States. Assange stands charged by the Trump administration with 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act and conspiracy with Manning to crack a password on a Defense Department computer. He could be sentenced to 175 years in prison.

Assange's health has severely deteriorated. On May 31, 2019, UN Special Rapporteur Nils Melzer declared that Assange exhibited signs of prolonged exposure to psychological torture. During his years of isolation in the Ecuadorian embassy, the U.K. government denied him permission to go to a hospital for treatment, resulting in seriously worsening medical conditions.

"In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic States ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonize and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law," Melzer said.

The U.S.-U.K. Treaty Forbids Extradition for Political Offenses

The 2003 extradition treaty between the U.S. and the U.K. states, "Extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense." It is the Requested State (in this case, the U.K.) that "determines that the request [by the U.S.] was politically motivated."

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Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and a member of the National Advisory Board of Veterans for Peace. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. See  (more...)

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