WikiLeaks founder's lawyers outline extradition defense

Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, January 12, 2011

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.

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.

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, 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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