A decision in WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange’s extradition appeal hearing is not expected for three weeks, as the court has reserved judgment whether he should be extradited to Sweden to be questioned for allegedly committing sex crimes. The postponement came as the hearing wrapped up after being in session for two days.
Assange’s appeal hearing challenged a lower court ruling, where a judge decided he should be extradited to Sweden. The process itself is part of the European arrest warrant (EAW) system, which is an “adopted framework” under the European Union that was developed to simplify and speed up extradition among member states. The allegations of sex crimes are part of the extradition process but not necessarily dependent or relevant to whether Assange is eventually extradited.
The Guardian, in its blow-by-blow documentation of hearing on its website, reports Clare Montgomery, appearing on behalf of Swedish authorities, argued “public prosecutors have long issued arrest warrants that were processed by UK courts as grounds for extradition” and it doesn’t matter if Assange is wanted for questioning and not for charges. Assange’s legal team, however, suggested there existed “more proportionate” ways to handle this situation than using the EAW system.
The judge said, “We are not concerned with whether this is a good case or a bad case but whether what is charged amounts to a crime.” Mark Summers, an attorney for Assange, said, “The prosecutor has never sought to explain why she has not engaged all other mechanisms [ie other than extradition] to progress this investigation … The reason there is a stand-off is entirely of Sweden’s making. What a waste of time.”
Yesterday, Assange’s legal team made claims that the European arrest warrant, which led to the hearing, contained “fundamental misstatements.” The team argued he had consensual sex with the two women who claim they were raped or sexually violated. And, the team argued Swedish authorities could use other means to investigate and pursue Assange that were not as “disproportionate.”
Assange had a new legal strategy and team for this hearing. Tom Hayden for The Nation wrote in June, “Until now, the Assange defense team has disparaged the Swedish assault charges and suggested that once in Swedish hands, the WikiLeaks founder might face extradition to the United States on conspiracy charges carrying a life sentence.” Gareth Peirce, a “renowned British human rights advocate who has defended Guantanamo detainees and Irish republicans in previous decades,” was brought on along with Ben Emmerson, “also a respected human rights attorney who has served as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism.”
Peirce told Hayden before the extradition appeal hearing:
The history of this case is as unfortunate as it is possible to imagine, in which encounters, undoubtedly believed by all parties at the time to be private, became inappropriately the subject of publicity and thereafter in consequence no doubt the more difficult to resolve. Each of the human beings involved deserves respect and consideration. It is hoped that whatever steps as are required to be taken in the future will be taken thoughtfully, with sensitivity and with such respect.
[*Note: Peirce has previously come out strongly against the United States on the issue of extradition. Read her article, which was published in the London Review of Books in May 2010.]
The change in legal team and strategy may explain why Assange did not give any speeches on either day of the appeal hearing.
Assange’s extradition case has called attention to irregularities and unjust aspects of the EAW system. A parliamentary committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, singled out the case of hacker Gary McKinnon, who has spent nine years fighting extradition to America, and urged that Britons not be sent overseas for offenses “committed wholly or mainly inside the UK” or for cases “without any evidence against them.”
EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding spoke out in April and said, according to The Guardian, “crossborder pursuits of bicycle thieves, piglet rustlers and those accused of trivial offences was damaging the authority of the European arrest warrant (EAW).” The EU Commission planned legislation to address some of the problems that have stemmed from the process.
Duncan Campbell, for The Guardian, detailed in June how the EAW has been a “very blunt instrument.”
The EAW was first introduced at the beginning of 2004 as a way of expediting the extradition across European borders of wanted criminals and those who had fled countries rather than stand trial for serious offences. That was its intention, anyway, and it is fair to say that, on many occasions, it has been very helpful in the speedy capture of violent and dangerous people who have sought to avoid a country’s justice by hiding abroad…
… While there can be no argument on behalf of some of those who have had their collar felt in some foreign land, the warrant has been too readily used in cases that were very minor, flimsy or nonexistent. It is time to rework it, so that the warrant is only employed when there is a clear, credible case against an alleged offender and when a speedy trial and proper legal representation is assured.
On June 9th, the European Parliament held a debate on the EAW system. Gerard Batten MEP detailed how the EAW was being used to oppress political dissidents, like Assange and said, “There are many irregularities in the case against him.”
He listed the irregularities: failure of prosecutor to interview witnesses that could clear Assange, allegations against Assange would not constitute “rape” in England, complainants’ lawyer has stated the ladies in question cannot tell if what happened constitutes “rape” because they are not lawyers, Assange was in Sweden for five weeks but was not questioned, etc. And, he went on to provide context for an argument that the EAW is being used to suppress the efforts of Assange and WikiLeaks and is feeding into US efforts to investigate and go after Assange for espionage.
Assange has not hid his fear that he might be extradited from Sweden to the United States. The legal team may not be describing this possibility in court or publicly to fuel support for Assange’s case, but it is widely known that Assange finds it possible he could end up in US custody.
In a chat with Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet in February explained why he thinks Sweden would extradite him to the US:
This is an interesting question that few people have looked at with any depth. Onwards extradition – to the United States – entirely a matter of politics. The Swedish Prime Minister has refused to block such an extradition, saying, falsely, that it is a matter entirely for the judiciary, while at the same time pathetically pandering with his other commentary on the case. Infact, he has the power, in the Swedish extradition relationship with the US, to disqualify my extradition. He refuses. According to what I have been told of the protocol between Sweden and the UK, and the US and the UK, the Home Secretary of the UK, simiarly has such power to politically veto such an extradition. The British government, thus far, has refused to do so. Now, while it is convention that an extradition from the UK or Sweden to the US would require the US to agree to not execute or torture me or other european based WikiLeaks staff, any such diplomatic guarentee would be meaningless. Sweden went through that formalism with its CIA assisted extraditions to Egypt, which were immediately ignored. In the US many senior politicians have called for our assassination or life imprisonment. There are three bills before Congress and the Senate to do such things as declare us a “transnational threat”, so all our staff can be treated like al-Quada – as “enemy combatants” and shipped off to Bagram or Guantanamo, etc. Nothing Sweden can politely ask for can stop this legislative risk.
Tom Hayden, in another article on Assange’s case, explained, “If American authorities eventually indict Assange and demand his extradition, the proceedings could raise a firestorm of protest. But any extradition from Sweden would have to be approved by both Stockholm and London—under extradition law, an individual may not be extradited on one charge from nation A to nation B, and then extradited to nation C on a different charge. The prosecutors will be faced with strong opposition from the United States, the United Kingdom and Sweden.”
The postponement of a decision naturally invites speculation. Why couldn’t the court give an immediate decision? The public does not know the backroom conversations and power politics, which might be playing out. But, read Peirce’s article published in the London Review of Books and one can assume there are power politics involved in most extradition cases.
If Assange loses his appeal, he will have one more avenue for appeal and could take his case to the UK Supreme Court. The Swedish authorities, of course, could also end their pursuit of an extradition and use the other avenues the Assange legal team has outlined to give the women, who allege sex crimes, justice.