Julian Assange's Battle Against US Extradition Nears Conclusion

WikiLeaks' Assange Faces Crucial Extradition Decision

by Zain ul Abedin
Julian Assange's Battle Against US Extradition Nears Conclusion
© Jack Taylor/Getty Images

The ongoing legal struggle of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange against extradition to the United States has reached a pivotal moment. Assange, who spent seven years in self-imposed exile in a foreign embassy and five years in British custody, is now facing potentially his final court hearing in London this Tuesday.

The focus of the hearing is to determine if Assange can pursue an appeal to prevent his extradition. The High Court has allocated two days for arguments on this critical issue. A negative outcome for Assange could result in his imminent transfer to the U.S.

Stella Assange, Julian's wife, has emphasized the gravity of the situation, stating that her husband's life hangs in the balance, particularly given the decline in his health during his imprisonment. "His life is at risk every single day he stays in prison," she expressed.

"If he's extradited, he will die." The 52-year-old Australian computer expert is facing 18 charges in the U.S. related to WikiLeaks' 2010 publication of a vast trove of classified documents. The U.S. prosecution alleges that Assange conspired with former U.S.

army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer, releasing secret diplomatic cables and military documents concerning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is charged with 17 counts of espionage and one count of computer misuse, with a potential sentence of up to 175 years, although U.S.

authorities suggest a likely lower sentence. Assange and his supporters maintain that his actions were journalistic, aimed at exposing wrongdoings by the U.S. military, and thus should be protected under the First Amendment.

This argument is bolstered by WikiLeaks' release of footage showing a 2007 U.S. Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed several people, including two Reuters journalists. The U.S. legal team contends that Assange's actions posed a serious risk to American intelligence sources in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Decade-Long Legal Odyssey

The protracted nature of Assange's case, which has spanned over a decade, began with his 2012 refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He sought political asylum following an English court's ruling for his extradition to Sweden for a rape investigation, which was later dropped.

However, after Ecuador withdrew his asylum status in 2019, he was arrested and has since been detained in London's Belmarsh Prison. An initial ruling in London blocked Assange's U.S. extradition due to concerns over his mental health and potential harsh treatment in American prisons.

However, subsequent rulings have moved the case forward following assurances from U.S. authorities about his treatment. The upcoming hearing could either pave the way for Assange's extradition to the U.S. or extend his legal battle through further appeals, including potentially to the European Court of Human Rights.

His legal team is prepared to challenge the fairness of a U.S. trial, argue against extradition for political offenses under the U.S.-U.K. treaty, and contest the application of espionage charges to publishers. Stella Assange has highlighted her husband's deteriorating health, including a mini-stroke and a severe illness leading to a broken rib.

She expressed deep concern for his well-being, particularly under the stressful conditions of his incarceration. The couple, who married in Belmarsh Prison, have two young sons who visit Assange weekly, despite the harrowing security procedures they endure.

Stella has shielded the children from the full extent of their father's situation, focusing on protecting their innocence amidst the ongoing legal ordeal.