Julian Assange’s lawyers on Thursday rejected US assurances about the treatment that awaits the WikiLeaks founder if he is extradited from Britain, as two days of hearings concluded in London.
Britain’s High Court said it will issue a ruling at a later date, after Washington appealed a lower court’s decision to block Assange’s extradition to face a series of US charges related to the massive leak of classified documents.
“It has given us a lot to think about and we will take our time to make our decision,” said Ian Burnett, one of two judges hearing the US appeal in the central London court.
Assange’s lawyers argued that a suicide risk remains if he is extradited to the United States, despite new assurances that he will not be held in solitary confinement in a “supermax” federal prison.
Mark Summers, representing Assange, argued that there were “genuine questions” about the “reliability” of the US promises.
He said that US intelligence agencies had an “obsession” with Assange.
Recent reports that the CIA had hatched a previous plot to kidnap Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy in London and poison him were “potentially the tip of the iceberg,” Summers said.
The US government wants Assange to face espionage charges that could land him in jail for up to 175 years, although his legal team says his possible sentence is difficult to estimate and could be much shorter.
He appeals the January decision of UK District Court Judge Vanessa Baraitser that it would be “oppressive” to extradite Assange because of his grave risk of suicide and deteriorating mental health.
He rejected the testimony of American experts that Assange would be protected from self-harm, noting that others, such as disgraced American financier Jeffrey Epstein, had committed suicide while in custody.
Regardless of what the High Court decides, the legal fight is likely to drag on for months, if not years.
If the US appeal is successful, the case will be sent back to the lower court for a new decision, while the loser can also request permission for a new final appeal to the UK Supreme Court.
Assange decided not to appear on Thursday after following some of Wednesday’s procedures via video link from Belmarsh High Security Prison in southeast London, where he is being held.
His partner Stella Moris, with whom he has two children, was present inside the courtroom while dozens of supporters demonstrated outside.
Assange, 50, an Australian national, was arrested in Britain in 2019 for skipping bail, after spending seven years inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faced charges of sexual assault. These were later discarded.
The US government has indicted him on 18 charges related to the publication of 500,000 secret files by WikiLeaks in 2010 detailing aspects of the military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
He is accused of violating US espionage and hacking law, based on the alleged help he gave former military intelligence officer Chelsea Manning to obtain documents from secure computer systems.
Jeremy Corbyn, the former left-wing leader of the British Labor Party, said outside court that Assange “had told us the truth, the truth about Afghanistan, the truth about Iraq, the truth about surveillance.”
James Lewis, a lawyer for the United States government, said in his appeal that Washington had provided written promises that Assange would not be detained at the ADX Florence jail in Colorado, which houses criminals, including Al-Qaeda extremists, in near-total isolation. .
He would also receive the recommended psychological treatment and would eventually be eligible to request a prisoner transfer to his native Australia.
“Diplomatic assurances are a solemn matter,” Lewis said. “These are not handed out like smarties.”
He also tried to undermine Baraitser’s ruling, arguing that Assange “had every reason to exaggerate” his mental health problems and that his own experts had found that he was only “moderately depressed.”
The lawyer also insisted that Michael Kopelman, a key psychiatric expert provided by Assange’s team, had offered a “misleading” initial report that deliberately omitted that Assange had secretly fathered two children with Moris in recent years.