LONDON — (LA Times) - The United States asked Britain’s High Court on Wednesday to overturn a judge’s decision that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should not be extradited to face espionage charges, promising that he would be able to serve any prison sentence he receives in his native Australia.
In January, a lower court judge refused a U.S. request to extradite Assange on spying charges over WikiLeaks’ publication of secret military documents a decade ago. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser denied extradition on health grounds, saying Assange was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions.
An attorney for the U.S. government, James Lewis, argued that the judge erred when she ruled that Assange would be at risk of suicide because of the oppressive conditions. He said American authorities had promised that Assange would not be held before trial in a top-security “supermax” prison or be subjected to strict isolation conditions, and if convicted would be allowed to serve his sentence in Australia.
U.S. authorities also argue that Assange does not meet the threshold of being so ill that he cannot resist harming himself.
Lewis said Assange did “not even come close to having an illness of this degree.”
“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,” Lewis said.
Assange’s lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald, said in a written submission that Australia had not agreed to take Assange if he is convicted. Even if Australia did agree, Fitzgerald said the U.S. legal process could take a decade, “during which Mr. Assange will remain detained in extreme isolation in a U.S. prison.”
He accused U.S. lawyers of seeking to “minimize the severity of Mr. Assange’s mental disorder and suicide risk.”