Lawyers for WikiLeaks' Assange outline defense for extradition hearing in London

The U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks offer unvarnished insights into the personal proclivities of world leaders.
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 11, 2011; 10:35 PM

LONDON - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could eventually face a term in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or even execution by U.S. authorities if he is extradited to Sweden, his attorneys said Tuesday, while Assange vowed after a brief court hearing to continue his work "unabated."

Assange, whose whistle-blowing Web site has released thousands of secret U.S. government cables, is fighting a Swedish warrant for extradition to face sex crime allegations. At his request, his law firm, Finers Stephens Innocent, posted online Tuesday a "provisional skeleton argument" outlining his planned defense during a full extradition hearing in London on Feb. 7 and 8.

In the document, Assange's legal team insisted that Sweden's extradition warrant is politically motivated and that it risks violating the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits torture or the extradition of suspects to places where they might face the death penalty.

"There is a real risk that, if extradited to Sweden, the US will seek his extradition and/or illegal rendition to the USA, where there will be a real risk of him being detained at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere, in conditions which would breach Article 3 of the ECHR," the document said. "Indeed, if Mr. Assange were rendered to the USA, without assurances that the death penalty would not be carried out, there is a real risk that he could be made subject to the death penalty."

Karen Todner, an extradition expert in London, said she thinks Assange is more at risk of extradition to the United States if he remains in Britain, under the terms of the two countries' 2003 extradition treaty. "I know of cases where America has deliberately enticed people to the U.K. so they can benefit from the U.K. extradition treaty with the U.S.," she said.

The U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria and the FBI are conducting what Justice Department officials have described as an aggressive criminal investigation of Assange. Sources familiar with the inquiry say it could lead to a range of possible charges, including several under the Espionage Act or conspiracy statutes.

Last week, the Associated Press reported that federal prosecutors had obtained a judge's order instructing the Twitter social networking site to hand over personal details about people connected with WikiLeaks, in an apparent bid to establish a connection between Assange and Pfc. Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence analyst who is suspected of supplying classified information to the Web site.

The document posted by Assange's defense team said that prominent U.S. figures had implied or stated that Assange could be executed, citing former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R) - who wrote on her Facebook page, "Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders?" - and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R), who in November told reporters, "Whoever in our government leaked that information is guilty of treason, and I think anything less than execution is too kind a penalty."

Assange's attorneys questioned the European arrest warrant system, arguing that Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny was not entitled to issue the European arrest warrant that led to Assange's arrest on Dec. 7. Only the Swedish police can issue such a warrant, they said.

They also emphasized that Assange is wanted in Sweden only for questioning and said that an extradition order should be reserved for prosecution efforts.

Karin Rosander, a spokeswoman for the Swedish Prosecution Authority, declined to comment, saying her office had not had a chance review the draft document in detail.

Assange, who denies sexually assaulting two women in Stockholm last summer, appeared at London's Belmarsh magistrates court Tuesday for a short hearing on his bail conditions.

The judge agreed to allow him to stay at the Frontline Club, a media club in London, on Feb. 6 and 7. Since being released on bail on Dec. 16, Assange has been living under curfew at the 600-acre estate of Vaughan Smith, one of the Frontline Club's founders, northeast of London.

The 39-year-old Australian said WikiLeaks will continue its work.

"We are stepping up our publishing for matters related to Cablegate and other materials," he told reporters. "Those will be shortly appearing through our newspaper partners around the world."

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