No matter the upcoming UK Supreme Court ruling on the validity of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued for Julian Assange, the U.S. government is likely to unseal a secret grand jury indictment to attempt to secure Assange’s extradition to the U.S., according to Mike Head of the World Socialist Web Site.And the Australian government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard is willing to help.
On February 28 the Australian government introduced the Extradition and Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Amendment Act of 2012, a bill that would allow the government to override restrictions on extraditing people accused of political offenses against foreign governments.
From Mike Head:
Previously, extradition had to be refused if the alleged crime was political in nature. Now “terrorist”-related offences will no longer be exempt from extradition. This provision could well be used against Assange. US Vice President Joseph Biden has described Assange as a “high tech terrorist,” a charge repeated by others.
The amendments to the Australian Extradition Act further permit the government to introduce regulations, with little public scrutiny, to do likewise for other offences, such as espionage or sedition.
The amendments also expedite the extradition process and and permit the government to introduce regulations that would allow the government to domestically prosecute people accused of crimes in the U.S. (e.g. Assange or former Guantánamo Bay detainee David Hicks), according to Head.
Senior U.S. officials asked to be “more closely consulted” on future freedom of information (FOI) applications after Australian diplomatic cables obtained through a FOI request revealed in December 2010 that the Australian government knew but had raised no concerns about the “unprecedented” investigation to charge Assange under U.S. law.
A few days later Gillard said that Assange committed “an illegal act” but could not name the Australian laws allegedly broken by Assange.
The government has subsequently delayed a FOI application for the release of diplomatic cables between the Australian government and Washington until at least late May because some of the cables were “highly classified” and Gillard’s department hasn’t finalised consultation with U.S. officials because “working out precisely where the sensitivities lie” is “an involved, complex task,” according to a letter from the Australian Foreign Affairs Department to FOI authorities and reported by Head.
If the UK Supreme Court rejects Assange’s appeal, the 40-year-old Australian would be extradited to Sweden where he faces immediate arrest and detention without bail (unless the European Court of Human Rights agrees to consider his case and directs Britain not to hand him over until its proceedings are over).
From there Assange could be extradited to the U.S. (with whom Sweden has a “temporary surrender” agreement in place) to face charges of espionage or conspiracy for the leaking hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. documents by WikiLeaks, potentially leading to life imprisonment or the death penalty.
Assange’s lawyers have argued that the EAW is invalid for two reasons:
1) Assange has not been charged with a crime. Under EAW procedures a warrant must indicate a formal charge in order to be validated.
2) The “issuing judicial authority” of the EAW was the prosecutor (i.e. Swedish Director of Public Prosecution Marianne Ny), but “judicial authority” usually refers to an impartial magistrate, judge or court (or in Sweden’s case the National Police Board).
If the court rules in favour of Assange, he will have avoided extradition to Sweden but may end up in the U.S. anyway because of the new Australian laws.
The UK Supreme Court is expected to tweet their ruling any day now.
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