US to Lay Out Case Against Assange 02/23 09:47
LONDON (AP) -- The U.S. government and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will
face off Monday in a high-security London courthouse, a decade after WikiLeaks
infuriated American officials by publishing a trove of classified military
A judge at Woolwich Crown Court will begin hearing arguments from lawyers
for U.S. authorities, who want to try Assange on espionage charges that carry a
maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.
The extradition hearing follows years of subterfuge, diplomatic dispute and
legal drama that have led the 48-year-old Australian from fame as an
international secret-spiller through self-imposed exile inside the Ecuadorian
Embassy in London to incarceration in a maximum-security British prison.
Assange has been indicted in the U.S. on 18 charges over the publication of
classified documents. Prosecutors say he conspired with U.S. army intelligence
analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer and release hundreds
of thousands of secret diplomatic cables and military files on the wars in Iraq
U.S. authorities say WikiLeaks' activities put American lives in danger.
Assange argues he was acting as a journalist entitled to First Amendment
protection, and says the leaked documents exposed U.S. military wrongdoing.
Among the files published by WikiLeaks was video of a 2007 Apache helicopter
attack by American forces in Baghdad that killed 11 people, including two
Journalism organizations and civil liberties groups including Amnesty
International and Reporters Without Borders say the charges against Assange set
a chilling precedent for freedom of the press.
"What we have is an assault on journalism," left-wing Greek lawmaker Yanis
Varoufakis said at an Assange support march in London on Saturday. "The only
charge against Julian, hiding behind the nonsense of espionage, is a charge of
Assange's legal saga began in 2010, when he was arrested in London at the
request of Sweden, which wanted to question him about allegations of rape and
sexual assault made by two women. He refused to go to Stockholm, saying he
feared extradition or illegal rendition to the United States or the U.S. prison
camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In 2012, Assange sought refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he was
beyond the reach of U.K. and Swedish authorities.
For seven years Assange led an isolated and increasingly surreal existence
in the tiny embassy, which occupies an apartment in an upscale block near the
ritzy Harrod's department store. Confined to the building, he occasionally
emerged onto a small balcony to address supporters, and received visits from
celebrity allies including Lady Gaga and "Baywatch" actress Pamela Anderson.
The relationship between Assange and his hosts eventually soured, and he was
evicted in April 2019. British police immediately arrested him for jumping bail
Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November because so much
time had elapsed, but Assange remains in London's Belmarsh Prison as he awaits
a decision on the U.S. extradition request.
Supporters say the ordeal has harmed Assange's physical and mental health,
leaving him with depression, dental problems and a serious shoulder ailment.
For his supporters around the world, Assange remains a hero. But many others
are critical of the way WikiLeaks has published classified documents without
redacting details that could endanger individuals. WikiLeaks has also been
accused of serving as a conduit for Russian misinformation, and Assange has
alienated some supporters by dallying with populist politicians including
Brexit-promoter Nigel Farage.
Assange's legal team insists the American case against him is politically
motivated. His lawyers say they will present evidence that the Australian was
offered a pardon by the Trump administration if he agreed to say Russia wasn't
involved in leaking Democratic National Committee emails that were published by
WikiLeaks during the 2016 U.S. election campaign.
Assange's lawyers say the offer was made in August 2017 by then-Republican
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who claimed to be acting on behalf of President
The White House has called the claim "a complete fabrication and a total
lie." Rohrabacher acknowledges discussing the Democrat leak with Assange, but
denies offering a pardon from the president.
An end to the saga could still be years away. After a week of opening
arguments, the extradition case is due to break until May, when the two sides
will lay out their evidence. The judge is not expected to rule until several
months after that, with the losing side likely to appeal.
If the courts approve extradition, the British government will have the
The case comes at delicate time for trans-Atlantic relations. The U.K. has
left the European Union and is keen to strike a trade deal with the U.S.
But relations between Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative government
and the Trump administration have been strained by Britain's decision to defy
Washington and grant Chinese firm Huawei a role in building the U.K.'s telecoms
Anand Doobay, an extradition lawyer at the firm Boutique Law, said the
Assange saga was an unusual, hard-to-predict case.
"Very few cases raise this range of issues, where there are likely to be
arguments about the actual offenses he's accused of committing and whether they
amount to a crime in both countries," he said. "There are arguments about his
treatment in terms of the fairness of his trial, the conditions he's going to
be detained in, the reasons why he is being prosecuted, his activities as a