Diary

A Novel, and Bad, Ruling in a British Court

(AP Photo/Matt Dunham, FILE)

It has not been uncommon for foreign governments and judges to refuse to extradite prisoners to the United States if they faced potentially capital charges in the US, but this is a new one. A district court judge in the United Kingdom has refused to allow the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange because he might impose capital punishment on himself!

U.K. judge refuses extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to U.S.

by Jill Lawless, Associated Press | 6:31 AM EST

LONDON — A British judge on Monday rejected the United States’ request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to face espionage charges, saying he was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled that extradition would be “oppressive” because of Assange’s mental health.

She said Assange was “a depressed and sometimes despairing man” who had the “intellect and determination” to circumvent any suicide prevention measures taken by prison authorities.

The U.S. government said it would appeal the decision. Assange’s lawyers plan to ask for his release from a London prison where he has been held for more than a year-and-a-half.

There’s more at the original.

Mr Assange and WikiLeaks published the material sent to them by PFC Bradley Manning¹; Mr Manning was convicted for violating the Espionage Act, stealing government property, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and multiple counts of disobeying orders, and was sentenced to 35 years in prison. President Barack Hussein Obama, just before he left office, unjustly and irresponsibly commuted Mr Manning’s sentence to seven years in prison, and he was released in May of 2017.

There remains something I believe to be a huge problem. Mr Manning was an American soldier, operating on American bases, and thus subject to American law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Mr Assange, however, is not an American citizen, was not in the United States when WikiLeaks published the material sent to them by then-PFC Manning, and Wikileaks is not based in the United States. The notion that American law extends beyond American political jurisdiction is a troubling one, and one I find repugnant. If American law extends outside of the United States’ legal jurisdiction, then any other country can claim that their laws extend inside the United States.

Mr Assange did do the United States a huge favor when WikiLeaks published e-mails hacked from John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee, information which helped to keep Hillary Clinton a private citizen.

But, I digress.

Mr Assange was not facing a capital sentence in the United States, and thus that commonly-used justification for denial of extradition did not apply. In this ruling, Judge Baraitser twisted the justification around to use it to claim that the prisoner might commit capital punishment on himself. If he did so, would that not be his choice? Is anyone really upset that such was Jeffrey Epstein’s choice?

Let me be clear here: I am opposed to capital punishment. I find it unreasonable in circumstances in which a prisoner has no power to escape, and it has become far more expensive than a sentence of life without parole. But if someone wants to kill himself, that ought to be his choice. The notion that we have suicide prevention measures in prison seems silly to me.

But Judge Baraitser has created something new, something which could be used by other nations and foreign judges to block extradition even when the criminal suspect has not committed any offense which would subject him to a possible death sentence. This is not a good thing.
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¹ – In keeping with my website’s stylebook, we always refer to Mr Manning, an mentally ill individual who believes he’s a woman, by his birth name and biological sex.
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