In a totally unexpected ruling in the Old Bailey this morning, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser refused to allow WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition to the US to proceed, on the basis that, as court-watcher Kevin Gosztola described it in a tweet, she was “satisfied that procedures described by [the] US would not prevent Assange from finding a way to commit suicide in [a] US supermax prison.”
Gosztola added, powerfully, “The United States government’s mass incarceration system just lost them their case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.”
In an unjust world in which good news seems to be in ever dwindling supply, this is extraordinarily good news. The US has 14 days to appeal, but it is uncertain if they will do so, as the mental health and suicide risk argument is essentially unassailable, and has been used effectively before — in the cases of Gary McKinnon and Lauri Love, who both have Asperger’s Syndrome. Julian’s Asperger’s has, to my mind, rarely been adequately recognized before, until it was diagnosed by an expert witness in his extradition hearing in September, which now seems to have played a key role in preventing his extradition.
As Kevin Gosztola subsequently explained in a follow-up article for Shadowproof, accepting that Julian “would likely be imprisoned at a supermax prison in the US under special administrative measures (SAMs)”, Judge Baraitser stated, “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,” adding, “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.”
It is to be hoped that the British government will now recognize that it can no longer hold Julian, who has been imprisoned in the maximum-security Belmarsh prison in south east London since May 2019, when his asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy was revoked by a new, pro-US regime. A bail hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday, when, it is reasonable to expect, Julian will walk free.
While this is undoubtedly a case of a cloud with a silver lining, the cloud still remains. As Judge Baraitser ran though the main points of her ruling this morning — before dropping her bombshell — she had led everyone to conclude that she was intending to approve Julian’s extradition, as she methodically refuted every other challenge put forward by his defence team, including, most contentiously, her claim that the US-UK extradition treaty’s clear prohibition of extradition for political purposes did not apply.
As a result, the chilling effect of the extradition request on the freedom of the press remains, essentially, unchallenged, but this is an ongoing struggle, as advocates for press freedom constantly need to remind our leaders that having government wrongdoing exposed by whistleblowing, and published by the press is what differentiates liberal democracies from dictatorships.
Tomorrow we can resume that crucial struggle, but today we should all take a moment to celebrate another significant blow to the US-UK Extradition Treaty, and another unmitigated condemnation of the brutality of the US prison system — as well as the return of hope to a long-demonized individual, Julian Assange, who may now, finally, be reunited with his partner Stella Moris and their two young sons.