Written by Margaret E. Talt
On April 11, 2019, British police physically removed WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London at the request of American authorities. Shortly after his arrest, United States officials unsealed the March 2018 indictment against Assange, charging him with a single count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. The indictment further states that Chelsea Manning previously provided Julian Assange with complete databases from several U.S. departments and agencies. Documents obtained included 90,000 Afghanistan war-related activity reports, 400,000 Iraq activity reports, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, and 250,000 U.S. Department of State cables. Chelsea Manning provided WikiLeaks with the classified records, which were then published on the WikiLeaks website in 2010 and 2011.
Who is Julian Assange?
Julian Assange is an Australian/Ecuadorean national, journalist, hacker, and the founder of the website Wikileaks. Wikileaks was created in 2006 with the intention of collecting and sharing confidential information on an “international scale.” Julian Assange gained attention in 2007, when Wikileaks released a U.S. military manual which included detailed information on the Guantanamo detention center. However, Julian Assange’s true rise to fame came in April 2010, when WikiLeaks posted a 2007 video showing a U.S. military helicopter firing and killing two Reuters journalists and several Iraqi citizens. The video was posted on YouTube under the title “Collateral Murder.”
During the 2016 presidential race, Wikileaks released 1,200 emails from the private server Hillary Clinton used during her service as Secretary of State. Emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair were also released, leading U.S. government officials to suspect that Russian agents were behind hacking into servers and supplying the emails to WikiLeaks. Although Julian Assange stated that he had no personal desire to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, the U.S. public was better informed as a result of these published emails.
Revocation of Asylum
In 2012, Julian Assange sought asylum from Ecuador to avoid extradition to Sweden for sexual assault charges (that have since been dropped). He has been hiding at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for the last seven years. However, upon “repeated violations of international conventions and daily-life protocols,” on April 11, 2019, Ecuador’s president announced the withdrawal of Julian Assange’s asylum. Ecuador’s president further alleged that Julian Assange released secret documents from the Vatican, and mistreated guards at the embassy.
U.S. and U.K. Extradition Treaty
As a result of the asylum revocation, the U.S. requested that British police detain Julian Assange as the U.S. prepares to extradite him. As Julian Assange was carried out of the Ecuadorean Embassy, he screamed “The U.K. must resist.” His attorney later clarified that Julian Assange meant the United Kingdom should resist U.S. efforts to extradite him. His attorney also made clear that Julian Assange has no intention of surrendering to the U.S. Instead, he is going to fight extradition, as he and many of his followers believe that “extradition sets a dangerous precedent for media organizations in Europe and around the world . . . for publishing truthful information about the U.S.”
The U.S. and the U.K. began renegotiating their extradition treaty after September 11, 2001. The new treaty was signed on March 31, 2003 and went into force on April 26, 2007. The treaty outlines the requirements and process in which the offender can be extradited. If the charges for extradition are not contained in the approved list or the requirements of the process are not met, the Requested State can deny the Requesting State extradition.
In 2018, the U.K.’s high court refused to send Lauri Love, a British student charged with hacking U.S. government websites, to the U.S because of concerns the student would kill himself if tried in America. In 2004, suspected terrorist Babar Ahmad was arrested in the U.K. and held for eight years before he was extradited to the U.S. in 2012. The U.K. denied the U.S. extradition for computer hacker Gary McKinnon in 2012 because then-home secretary Theresa May stated that sending McKinnon while he was “seriously ill” was a violation of his human rights. In total, the U.K. has denied the U.S. ten requests for extradition since this treaty went into effect, while the U.S. has granted all of the U.K.’s requests for extradition.
Under the extradition treaty, the U.S. asked the U.K. for a “provisional arrest”. The Requesting State may request a provisional request under Article 12 for urgent situations, pending presentation of the request for extradition. This article gives the U.S. sixty days to compile the necessary documents and file additional charges against Julian Assange before presenting the case to the U.K. However, once the case is submitted to the U.K. for extradition consideration, no additional charges can be added pursuant to Article 18, Rule of Specialty.
Once submitted for review, the U.K. determines if the request meets the “reasonable suspicion” standard, which is similar to the U.S.’s “probable cause” standard. Julian Assange’s extradition proceeding will begin in the Magistrates Court, which mostly tries criminal offenses. The judge in the Magistrates Court can decide either to approve or deny the extradition request or to send the request directly to the U.K.’s home secretary. Either way, Julian Assange can appeal the decision of the Magistrates Court to the h, which is similar to the U.S.’s intermediate appeals court.
If the home secretary approves extradition, Julian Assange can still appeal to the high court, and continue appealing unfavorable decisions to the U.K.’s Supreme Court, similar to the U.S. Supreme Court. This process is known to take many years, and some have taken as long as thirteen years to work their way through the U.K.’s court system.
According to the Department of Justice, if extradited and convicted, Julian Assange faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison. However, because the procedural protections afforded Julian Assange in the extradition process, it may be many years before he is back on American soil. Alternatively, if the U.K. denies the U.S. its request for extradition, Julian Assange may never face charges in the U.S.
Ben Kochman, Extradition Clash Erupts After Assange’s Arrest In London, Law 360 (Apr. 11, 2019, 9:29 AM).
Costas Pitas, Guy Faulconbridge, & Kate Holton, U.S. Charges Assange after London arrest ends seven years in Ecuador embassy, Reuters (Apr. 11. 2019, 5:43 AM).
Extradition Treaty, N. Ir.-U.K. of Gr. Brit.-U.S., opened for signature Mar. 31, 2003 T.I.A.S. No. 07-426 (entered into force Apr. 26, 2007).
Indictment at 2, United States v. Julian Paul Assange, Criminal No. 1:18 cr (E.D. Va. 2018).
Julian Assange Biography, Biography (Apr. 2, 2014).
Julian Assange: WikiLeaks co-founder arrested in London, BBC (Apr. 12, 2019).
Zoe Tillman, It Could Be Years Before Julian Assange Steps Foot In the United States, BuzzFeed News (Apr. 12, 2019 at 4:09 PM).
FAQs on the U.S.-U.K Extradition Relationship, U.S. Embassy and Consulate in The United Kingdom (last visited Apr. 14, 2019).
Photo Courtesy of Express, UK