District Judge Vanessa Baraitser, of the Judiciary of England and Wales, recently denied the request of the United States Justice Department to extradite Julian Assange to the United States to face charges of hacking into computers of the United States government, and conspiring with Chelsea Manning, formerly United States Army Private Bradley Edward Manning, to disclose top secret and classified military documents on Wikileaks. Manning got sentenced to 30 years in prison for espionage and other Federal crimes for disclosing classified military documents to Assange. Manning’s prison sentence was commuted by President Obama just before he left office four years ago. Manning did seven years in a number of Federal prisons.
Assange spent seven years in the Ecuadorian Embassy in England where he was granted asylum. After Ecuador kicked him out of their embassy he was subject to arrest and extradition to the United States by England. He has been locked up in an English prison during his extradition proceedings. He has also been accused of providing classified American military documents to Edward Snowden, who fled to Russia, and currently resides there, after the United States sought to indict him for releasing classified CIA documents he downloaded from the NSA.
After numerous hearings and hearing testimony, Judge Baraitser denied the Justice Department’s request to have Assange extradited to the United States. Baraitser found that if Assange were incarcerated in Federal prisons in America he would most likely commit suicide due to the harsh prison conditions he would be subjected to. But Judge Baraitser would not allow Assange to leave his English prison cell in order to reside on home confinement with his wife and two children. Assange will be stuck in prison while the United States appeals the no extradition order.
The United States argued to Judge Baraitser that Assange’s release of classified information threatened the lives of CIA agents operating in the Middle East, as well as the lives of citizens of Middle Eastern countries who regularly provided the CIA with information. Chelsesa Manning provided Assange with 250,000 secret diplomatic cables, 75,000 Afghanistan war logs, 400,000 Iraqi war logs, and 800 detainee assessment briefs related to prisoners in Guantánamo. Osama Bin Laden reviewed Wikileaks’ documents for the purposes of identifying informants. Assange justified the release of said materials as the only way to expose war crimes committed by the American government, which outweighed any possible risk to human lives, which he felt was exaggerated by the American government. Assange encouraged Manning to disclose more and more information, telling her, “curious eyes never run dry.”
Judge Bariatser heard evidence about the possible prison conditions Assange would be subjected to if he were extradited to the United States. The Judge stated that Assange could be locked up in William G Truesdale Adult Detention Centre (the “ADC”) in Alexandria, Virginia, and be housed in protected custody / administrative segregation, and subjected to Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), in order to prevent Assange from further disclosing classified information to anyone on the outside, including family members and the media. Mail, visits and telephone access would be extremely limited. Detainees subjected to SAMs were typically confined to their cells for 24-hours per day, recreation time took place in isolation and in a small barren indoor cell, outside contact was limited to approved family member for 30 minutes or two 15-minute phone calls per month, mail sometimes took months to arrive and was routinely screened and the only form of human interaction they encountered was when correctional officers opened the viewing slot during their inspection rounds of the unit, or when meals were delivered through the secure meal slot in the door. In response, the Justice Department argued that only 47 of 150,000 inmates are subjected to SAMs and it is possible that the Warden may not impose SAMs on Assange. The Judge noted that Jeffery Epstein committed suicide in his cell at Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he was subjected to SAMs.
The Judge heard evidence about the prison conditions at Federal supermax prison, ie., ADX, in Colorado, in case Assange was sent to ADX. The Judge stated “prisoners at ADX are allowed a total of 10 hours outside their cell per week, however this time is spent alone in a small indoor room or a cage hardly bigger than their cell; inmates are forbidden from communicating with other prisoners, for example, by yelling though the walls; communications with people outside the prison are usually restricted to their lawyers and a few immediate family members who must be cleared by the US Government; prisoners are restricted to writing one letter per week to a single family member and this may not exceed three double sided sheets of paper, forwarded to FBI agents for approval; over time,the delays in receiving mail degrade the quality of communication between a prisoner and his family to the point where it can feel worthless; phone calls are severely restricted and contemporaneously monitored; during non-legal in-person visits no physical contact is allowed, with conversations taking place thorough a thick glass barrier and prisoners shackled and chained at their wrists, ankles and to the ground.”
Professor Kopelman, professor of neuropsychiatry at Kings College in London testified about Assanges mental health. Kopelman diagnosed Mr. Assange with severe recurrent depressive disorder, accompanied by psychotic features (hallucinations) and ruminative suicidal ideas. He also diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) relating to an incident when Mr. Assange was 10 years old; generalized anxiety disorder and traits of autism spectrum disorder, including loss of sleep, loss of weight, a feeling of often being on the verge of tears, and a state of acute agitation in which he was pacing his cell until exhausted, punching his head or banging it against a cell wall. Kopelman noted that Assange had two close relatives who committed suicide and that Chelsea Manning attempted suicide. Kopelman felt that Assange was at a greater risk of committing suicide in an American jail cell than in the jail cell he currently resides in England. In his English prison Assange speaks to his partner by telephone nearly every day and and has frequent visits with her and his children, as well frequent visits with his father, friends and other relatives, which would be lacking in an American jail.
The Judge found the evidence of Dr. Kopelman to be credible and issued the following ruling: “I accept that oppression as a bar to extradition requires a high threshold. I also accept that there is a strong public interest in giving effect to treaty obligations and that this is an important factor to have in mind. However, I am satisfied that, in these harsh conditions, Mr. Assange’s mental health would deteriorate causing him to commit suicide with the ‘single minded determination’ of his autism spectrum disorder. I find that the mental condition of Mr. Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”
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