In a long-awaited decision, Britain’s Supreme Court cleared the way for the extradition of the WikiLeaks mastermind to face sexual-abuse allegations in Sweden. Mike Giglio talks to human-rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson about why Assange’s true concern is the U.S.
UPDATE: Geoffrey Robertson, QC, the revered human-rights lawyer who played a key role in devising Assange’s legal defense, tells The Daily Beast that while the extradition battle may be lost, its impact has already been felt—and says that Assange’s true concern is the United States:
“[Today’s ruling] was entirely predictable, because to rule in his favor would have partly destroyed the European extradition arrangement. Nonetheless, [Assange’s legal argument] was a valid point. The argument that I devised for him was that to say a prosecutor was a judicial authority was a contradiction in terms. A judicial authority in British, American, and Australian law is a judge—someone who is independent and impartial. But a prosecutor obviously is not, and it’s a dissolution of civil liberties to adopt the unfair systems that Napoleon introduced into Europe, which muddles the distinction. However, the judges were divided, and all agreed that the British Parliament had been misled by ministers who assured it that a judicial authority did mean a judge.
“The argument has kept Mr. Assange free in Britain for 18 months, under house—or at least, mansion-house—arrest. And it enabled him to produce Cablegate, which is of much importance to historians and journalists and helped to spark the Arab Spring with its revelations of corruption in Tunisia and Egypt. Assange must face down these spurious allegations of ‘minor rape’ [another contradiction in terms] made against him in Sweden, but his real anxiety is that the grand jury sitting in Virginia will produce a sealed indictment and the Justice Department will pounce once he gets to Sweden. Sweden has a government that bends to America’s will and has been found guilty of handing out special rendition at the request of the CIA: the Swedish justice system is amenable to government pressure, and he is much more vulnerable in Sweden than he is in the United Kingdom or Australia. He is asking the Australian government to obtain an undertaking from the Swedish government that when its legal system is finished with him, he will be allowed to return to Australia, where he is confident that the courts will deal fairly with any American extradition requests.”
Britain’s Supreme Court ordered Julian Assange to be extradited to Sweden today—but in yet another twist to the hacker’s strange legal saga, his fate could remain in the balance for at least another two weeks.
In its long-awaited decision, the court ruled by a margin of 5–2 that Sweden’s request to extradite Assange had been lawfully made, meaning that the controversial WikiLeaks founder should be returned to Sweden to face allegations of sexual abuse.
After the ruling, Assange’s legal team successfully petitioned for a 14-day window in which to consider challenging the decision, arguing that it may have been based on considerations that were not addressed during the appeal. Speaking on the BBC, Joshua Rozenberg, a legal analyst, called the move “unusual,” adding that it “means there’s everything left to play for still.”
Assange has been under house arrest in Britain during his long battle against extradition, much of it spent at the country estate of the journalist Vaughan Smith, who told The Daily Beast last year that he viewed hosting Assange as “standing up to the bully.” Assange stands accused of sexually abusing two women in August 2010, which he has denied. Supporters have alleged that the charges are politically motivated, seeing a conspiracy against the man whose leaks have rankled Western governments, particularly the United States.
In a statement last night, WikiLeaks declared itself to be “under serious threat” of legal ramifications in America. “The US, UK, Swedish and Australian governments are engaging in a coordinated effort to extradite its editor-in-chief Julian Assange to the United States, to face espionage charges for journalistic activities,” the statement reads. “For twenty-one months a Grand Jury sitting in the Washington DC area has been meeting on a monthly basis, seeking to prosecute Julian Assange for espionage.”
There have been unconfirmed reports—following recent leaks from Stratfor, the global intelligence company—that a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va., has issued a sealed indictment charging Assange with espionage. Louis B. Susman, the U.S. ambassador to Britain, said in February that America would “wait to see how things work out in the British courts” before taking any action.