Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who today turned himself into Scotland Yard to face an arrest warrant, is well aware of the worst-case scenario facing him as he sits in Wandsworth prison. This is the initial assessment.
Clearly the U.S. and British governments have a major spy-case scenario underway, with Sweden playing a secondary role in casting Assange as a sexual predator. But Assange has advantages as well. Major media outlets are taking him seriously enough to publish hundreds of secret cables as de facto accessories, and they may find it problematic to pivot editorially to denounce their own source. Even Time and Forbes, while not justifying the theft of documents, have published flattering cover stories this week. Assange and WikiLeaks have vowed to unleash a deluge of more classified documents despite his imprisonment. The laws concerning extradition and espionage are complicated, and an appeals process could drag on for weeks under a global public spotlight, to Assange’s benefit.
At 1:00 PM PST, his lawyers in London were preparing an emergency appeal of his incarceration and denial of bail.
Currently remanded to custody until a further hearing on December 14, next Assange could face extradition to Sweden, where the sex charges are increasingly incredible. According to Assange’s lawyer, one of the women threw a party for Assange the night after the “rape” attempt was alleged. No violence has been charged. The damage to Assange’s reputation has been “ incalculable” according to his lawyer – three-quarters of Internet references to his name include a reference to rape – but the case has the potential of imploding into an embarrassing circus for Sweden.
The real question is whether Assange will face extradition to the United States on charges now being prepared by a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, by the Justice Department. He could extradited from either Sweden or London, where lawyers are preparing for a protracted legal fight. Under British law, there is a protection against extradition for “political” reasons. It would take a U.S. declaration of an extraordinary national security interest to circumvent the normal procedures of extradition. Worst case, Assange could even be “rendered” to the U.S., causing heightened global interest.
Assuming the Obama administration, and especially the CIA and Pentagon, want his head badly enough, Assange could soon be photographed in manacles in the U.S.
Under the procedures governing espionage cases, he then would be:
- held in solitary confinement;
- refused visitations except by lawyers whose conversations would be recorded;
- all evidence, including his own materials, would be placed in a secured facility with limited access rights;
- taking notes could be prohibited;
- his lawyers would have to pass security clearances.
The net effect of these procedures would be to deny him the right to mount a meaningful legal defense.
NB: the Bulletin will keep the public posted on developments throughout today and the week...