“Mr Assange has also faced menacing, threatening surveillance, and there have been attempts to steal DNA samples from his children.” All render US assurances unbelievable, suggested Fitzgerald, Assange’s lead counsel.
He was responding to James Lewis QC, who is putting the case for the extradition. Lewis painted US penal conditions in sunny terms: “Mr Assange would have a cell mate, the average sentence for these crimes is only five years, and he would probably have his time in detention taken off his sentence.”
The concluding day of the hearings of the US application to overturn its extradition request denial was devoted to the case for sparing Assange American justice. The US wishes to prosecute the Wikileaks founder for 18 offences relating to the leaking and publication of the Afghan and Iraq war logs. The respondent, who is still held in London’s Belmarsh prison, was reported to be too unwell to join proceedings even by video link.
Fitzgerald reiterated in disturbing detail the weight of psychiatric evidence that extradition would make suicide a grave risk. “From the moment he arrived in the States, Mr Assange would be held in solitary confinement. This would create conditions in which suicide would be impossible to resist,” he said.
Fitzgerald also praised the judge in the earlier hearing for correctly interpreting those sections of the Extradition Act that protect those with mental vulnerabilities. “My learned friend (Mr Lewis) points out that no one extradited from the UK to the USA has ever committed suicide whilst in prison. That is precisely because Parliament created a protection so that those at risk are not extradited. That is the law that Judge Baraitser correctly applied in this case.”
In the afternoon, Mark Summers QC, also representing Assange, told the court that US promises in respect of the likely treatment of Assange were not credible. He described them as: “conditional, qualified and aspirational”. Summers said that whatever the detention regime was called, Assange would be held in harsh isolation thereby significantly increasing the suicide risk.
“This is the first time that the US has sought the assistance of a UK court after having contemplated kidnap, assassination and poisoning”, Summers concluded.
The case is being heard by Lord Burnett, the Lord Chief Justice, and Lord Justice Holroyd. Concluding the hearings, the Lord Chief Justice said: “you have given us much to think about and it will take some time to make our decision”.
Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice before yesterday’s hearing, former Labour leader Jeremy Corby MP said: “Julian Assange should be released immediately. A monstrous injustice has been done to this man whose only crime is telling us the truth.”