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What Awaits Julian Assange

A British appeals court on Friday ruled that Wikileaks cofounder Julian Assange could be extradited to the United States to face charges of espionage in the notorious Eastern District of Virginia federal court. A lower UK court had ruled that Assange should not be extradited because he was liable to commit suicide if he were to be sent to a US maximum-security penitentiary, to solitary confinement, or to a Communications Management Unit, which is similar to solitary confinement and which severely restricts a prisoner’s access to the outside world, and especially to the media. Assange’s UK attorneys have said that they will appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court and, if necessary, to the European Court of Human Rights.

The appeals process could take another two years, and during that period, Assange will continue to be stranded in London’s Belmarsh Prison, a cold, dank penitentiary on the outskirts of the city. For all intents and purposes, Assange already has been held in some form of incarceration since 2009, whether it has been house arrest, holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, or at Belmarsh. The prospects were he to be extradited to the US are no better.

There’s no such thing as a fair trial in a national security case, especially in the Eastern District of Virginia, the home of the CIA and the Pentagon.

The Justice Department has charged Assange with multiple counts of espionage for his work with Chelsea Manning in exposing US war crimes in Iraq. If extradited, he will not have an easy time of things in the Eastern District of Virginia. Judge Leonie Brinkema, a Reagan appointee, has long reserved national security cases for herself. She was the judge in my case and in CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling’s case, and she is the named judge in what would be an espionage case against Edward Snowden.

And although Brinkema was initially named as the judge in the Assange trial, she was later scooped by a more senior judge with an even more troubling past. Judge Claude Hilton, the district’s senior judge, is another Reagan appointee who was also named by former Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist as a member of the notorious Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court, where he served from 2000-2007. Hilton is a hawk on national security issues, and Assange will have no friend in his court if the extradition takes place.

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I’ve noted in the past that Assange will be subject to CIPA, the Classified Information Protection Act, that will prohibit him and his attorneys from raising myriad issues and from appropriately defending him against the government’s accusations. CIA attorneys will be in court every day to “protect Agency equities;” that is, to insist that the judge bar Assange and his attorneys from raising the notion that what Wikilkeaks did by publishing evidence of war crimes was whistleblowing. They also argue that Assange is neither a publisher nor a journalist. The fix is in. There’s no such thing as a fair trial in a national security case, especially in the Eastern District of Virginia, the home of the CIA and the Pentagon.

Even more importantly, in my mind, is the assertion by US prosecutors to the UK appeals court that Assange would not be sent to a maximum-security penitentiary, to solitary confinement, or to a Communications Management Unit. The promise is utterly disingenuous. It is not within the purview of Justice Department prosecutors to decide where a prisoner is incarcerated. That determination is made solely by the Bureau of Prisons, the largest (and arguably most corrupt) bureau within the Department.

When I was sentenced after blowing the whistle on the CIA’s torture program, Judge Brinkema, after telling me that she wished she could give me the maximum sentence of 10 years (I received 30 months) ordered that I be sent to a minimum-security work camp. I was sent to a low-security prison instead. When Judge Liam O’Grady sentenced drone whistleblower Daniel Hale to 45 months, he ordered that Hale be sent to the low-security prison hospital at Butner, North Carolina, so that he could receive treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Instead, Hale was sent to the maximum-security penitentiary (and the Communications Management Unit) at Marion, Illinois.

The bottom line here is that judges don’t get to say where a prisoner goes. Neither do prosecutors. It’s up to the Bureau of Prisons. And if they want to screw somebody, especially a high-profile prisoner like Julian Assange, they’ll screw him.

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Julian’s extradition to the United States is not imminent. The case will now go to the British Supreme Court. Regardless of who wins there, it’ll likely end up at the European Court of Human Rights. That could take another two years. But in the meantime, don’t believe a single word that the Justice Department says. They’re liars. And they’ll do literally anything to win a national security case, especially against Julian Assange.

John Kiriakou
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