Julian Assange head of WikiLeaks gestures as he gets back into a car at Beccles Police Station in Suffolk, England, Friday, Dec. 17, 2010 after complying with bail conditions. Assange said he feared that the United States is getting ready to indict him, saying Friday that he believed that a grand jury was meeting to consider charges against him. He has repeatedly voiced concerns that American authorities were getting ready to press charges over WikiLeaks' release of some 250,000 secret State Department cables, which have angered and embarrassed officials in Washington. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth) (AP)

What U.S. "justice" signifies around the world

Why is the possibility of ending up in American custody a cognizable ground for resisting extradition?

Glenn Greenwald
January 11, 2011 9:12PM (UTC)

In London this morning, a British court held a procedural hearing regarding Sweden's attempt to extradite Julian Assange in order to question him about sex crimes accusations.  Afterward, Assange's lawyers released an outline of the arguments they intend to make in opposition to extradition.  Most of them centered around the impermissibility of extraditing someone who has not been charged with a crime -- i.e., merely to interrogate them -- but one of the featured arguments focused on the danger that if Assange were sent to Sweden, that country would then extradite him to the U.S., where Assange would be subjected to grave injustices:

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, could be at "real risk" of the death penalty or detention in Guantánamo Bay if he is extradited to Sweden on accusations of rape and sexual assault, his lawyers claim.

In a skeleton summary of their defence against attempts by the Swedish director of public prosecutions to extradite him, released today, Assange's legal team argue that there is a similar likelihood that the US would subsequently seek his extradition "and/or illegal rendition", "where there will be a real risk of him being detained at Guantánamo Bay or elsewhere".

Paragraphs 92-99 of the outline detail Sweden's history of violating the Convention Against Torture by rendering War on Terror suspects to Egypt to be tortured, and concludes:  "based on its record as condemned by the United Nations Committee against Torture and the Human Rights Committee, Sweden would bow to US pressure and/or rely naively on diplomatic assurances from the USA that Mr. Assange would not be mistreated, with the consequence that he would be deported/expelled to the USA, where he would suffer serious ill-treatment."  This danger is legally relevant because the governing Extradition Act bars the expulsion of a prisoner where "extradition would be [in]compatible with the Convention rights within the meaning of the Human Rights Act 1998."  The outline also cited vigilante calls from leading right-wing figures for Assange's murder (yesterday, it was discovered that a prominent right-wing blogger, Melissa Clouthier, had registered the website JulianAssangeMustDie.com). 


It's quite notable that the mere threat of ending up in American custody is considered (at least by Assange's lawyers) to be a viable basis for contesting extradition on human rights grounds. Indeed, this argument is not unusual.  Numerous countries often demand, as a condition for extradition to the U.S., assurances from the U.S. Government that the death penalty will not be applied.  Similarly, there are currently cases pending in EU courts contesting the extradition of War on Terror detainees to the U.S. on the ground that they will be treated inhumanely by virtue of the type of prolonged, intensive solitary confinement to which Bradley Manning -- and thousands of other actual convicts -- are subjected.  

And now we have the spectacle of Julian Assange's lawyers citing the Obama administration's policies of rendition and indefinite detention at Guantanamo as a reason why human rights treaties bar his extradition to any country (such as Sweden) which might transfer him to American custody.  Indeed, almost every person with whom I've spoken who has or had anything to do with WikiLeaks expresses one fear above all others:  the possibility that they will end up in American custody and subjected to its lawless War on Terror "justice system."  Americans still like to think of themselves as "leaders of the free world," but in the eyes of many, it's exactly the "free world" to which American policies are so antithetical and threatening.

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Speaking of American justice, ondelette, over at FDL, raises an interesting point:  for those who believe that leading right-wing figures are inspiring violence (whether of the kind that just occurred in Arizona, things like this, or even calls for Assange's murder), shouldn't they be treated the same way American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki is:  i.e., targeted by the U.S. Government with due-process-free assassination for inciting violence?  Doesn't the mentality justifying Obama's assassination program necessarily extend to other Americans accused of "inciting" violence with their political speech?  While it's true that American officials -- once the assassination efforts were leaked -- began passing claims to journalists that Awlaki had an "operational role" in Terrorist plots, there has been no evidence presented of that, and the concern overwhelmingly with Awlaki is that he inspires violence with his political speech.  If presidentially-decreed assassination is justified against him, why not other American leaders accused of inciting violence?  Shouldn't the President order them taken out, too?

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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