This morning, in a courtroom of London’s Old Bailey (aka Westminster Magistrate’s Court), the U.S. Department of Justice’s bid to have WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, extradited to the United States to face the 18 pending charges was struck a blow when Magistrate Vanessa Baraitser denied the request for extradition. Her basis for denial was Assange’s mental health condition.
The Magistrate’s release of Assange centered on the likelihood of his facing trial and being convicted with sentencing to follow within the U.S. prison system. ADX Florence (Colorado) was a likely landing spot where he could be subjected to “special administrative measures” (SAM), which the U.S. Bureau of Prisons imposes to protect national security information.
Baraitser explained that Assange was diagnosed in December 2019 with “recurrent depressive disorder” which included suicidal thoughts and acts of self-harm. In August 2020, his depression had subsided to moderate severity following his movement to the general prison population.
Courts Cite Precedent in Assange Extradition
Baraitser highlights as precedent the 2012 case of Turner V Government of the USA in which the defendant Turner was not extradited as the “person’s physical or mental conditions is such that it would be unjust to extradite him” Also highlighted was the case of Lauri Love v United States (2018) where the UK court considered the “impact of the US prison detention conditions” in making their decision to deny extradition. Love had been indicted in 2013 for stealing the personal data of 100,000 federal employees.
Furthermore, a U.S. government witness during cross examination in the extradition hearing “accepted that ‘his suicide risk may increase in a much more deleterious environment without access to things which he values.’”
Therefore, she found that Assange’s mental health would be exacerbated within the U.S. prison system. She concluded, “I am satisfied the procedures described by the U.S. will not prevent Mr. Assange from finding a way to commit suicide and for this reason I have decided extradition would be oppressive by reason of mental harm and I order his discharge.”
DOJ Plans to Appeal
The Washington Post reports, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice said, “While we are extremely disappointed in the court’s ultimate decision, we are gratified that the United States prevailed on every point of law raised. In particular, the court rejected all of Mr. Assange’s arguments regarding political motivation, political offense, fair trial, and freedom of speech. We will continue to seek Mr. Assange’s extradition to the United States.”
The U.S. Department of Justice is expected to appeal the decision to the British High Court and ask that the decision be reversed.
It is interesting to note that within her decision (132 page pdf), she skewered the defenses arguments surrounding the alleged crimes committed by Assange. On substantive grounds, as noted by the Reporters Without Borders, Assange would have been ordered extradited to the United States.
UPDATE: On January 6, the same Magistrate, denied Assange bail, and ordered that he remain incarcerated pending the DOJ’s appeal. She noted his adequate mental health care in the British prison system and highlighted his flight risk. No doubt the offer from the President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of permanent asylum for Assange entered into the calculus.