THE ex-military lawyer who defended David Hicks says that if WikiLeaks frontman Julian Assange is extradited to the US for trial, his freedom could hinge on whether he is accepted a journalist.
The 41-year-old Australian has been holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since June to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over sexual assault claims.
Ecuador last month granted Mr Assange diplomatic asylum on the grounds that if he is extradited to Sweden he could later be transferred to the US and face life in prison or the death penalty over his website’s release of classified documents.
Dan Mori, who has retired from the military but remains technically a marine until October, told a Sydney forum on Wednesday that Mr Assange was unlikely to receive the treatment his one-time client David Hicks did.
“He would not be sent off to Guantanamo Bay or anything like that,” he told a packed-out public forum at NSW Parliament.
If Mr Assange – who refers to himself as editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, rather than its founder – were accepted as a journalist the tag could protect him during any US trial, Mr Mori said.
“I agree with you, I think he’s a journalist, I think he publishes on the internet, but that could be an issue still,” he told a questioner at the Greens-run event.
“I would probably say he shouldn’t be convicted if he falls into that exception.”
Human rights lawyer Kellie Tranter told the forum that if Mr Assange were extradited to Sweden, it would be a stop-over on the way to the US.
“Everything points that way,” she said.
“Perhaps what is most telling is that every country in the chain has refused to give diplomatic assurances that Assange will not be extradited to the US.”
Prominent Sydney journalist and academic Wendy Bacon said Mr Assange’s extradition to the US could have a chilling effect on global media.
“Whether they’re someone like Julian Assange or someone working for News Limited, (it is about) their role in providing information to people that other people, governments in particular, and big corporations and others, want hidden,” she said.