WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has lost an appeal to block his extradition to the United States, with the UK’s Supreme Court outright refusing to hear the petition. The decision strikes a major blow to efforts to free the journalist and anti-secrecy activist, though some options remain open to him.
Monday’s decision follows a previous High Court ruling which found that Assange could be extradited despite ongoing mental health issues and even a risk of suicide should be locked up in an American prison. Assange’s legal team challenged that decision, but the Supreme Court found the appeal “does not raise an arguable point of law” and declined to hear the case.
Barry Pollack, one of Assange’s US-based lawyers, called the ruling “extremely disappointing,” but said the journalist’s legal team will continue “fighting his extradition to the United States to face criminal charges for publishing truthful and newsworthy information.”
While the court shut down a major argument cited by Assange’s defense throughout the case – the possibility that he would take his own life in US custody – he has not exhausted all options for appeal. As noted by British journalist Mohamed Elmaazi, once Assange’s case is directed back to the UK Home Secretary, “the defense will have 4 weeks to submit arguments for her to reject extradition,” as well as the chance to “file appeals on grounds they originally lost on.”
A district court had previously blocked extradition on mental health grounds, but a London High Court overturned that ruling after an appearance by Joe Biden’s Justice Department. The court accepted assurances from Attorney General Merrick Garland that Assange would not be held in the most restrictive American prisons or face the worst forms of solitary confinement. Assange’s lawyers say those promises are merely “conditional” and “aspirational,” however, arguing that Washington is unlikely to keep its word.
Though President Barack Obama was more squeamish about prosecuting the journalist, fearing the move could criminalize the reporting of the most mainstream of corporate news agencies, the campaign against him was accelerated under the Donald Trump administration after WikiLeaks published the Vault 7 documents, embarrassing the US intelligence community.
As detailed in a Yahoo News exposé on “the CIA’s secret war plans against WikiLeaks,” the Trump White House seriously considered kidnapping, and even assassinating, Assange. Some members of the administration discussed “potential gun battles with Kremlin operatives on the streets of London,” believing “alarming reports” that Moscow was “preparing to sneak Assange out of the United Kingdom and spirit him away.”
No such plans ever materialized, but Trump’s legal efforts against Assange have continued into the Biden presidency, despite pressure from press freedom and humanitarian groups – as well as United Nations torture expert Nils Melzer – for the DOJ to drop all charges, including those under the WWI-era Espionage Act, and allow the journalist to go free.
Assange’s extradition – and likely successful prosecution in the US criminal justice system – would deal a major blow to the First Amendment, handing the federal government precedent to imprison reporters and publishers as enemies of the state and effectively criminalize investigative journalism.