Julian Assange’s extradition trial continued today at London’s Old Bailey court after being temporarily suspended last week due to a potential COVID-19 contagion. Today’s witness was Eric Lewis, a lawyer based in the United States and also heads the lawyers’ collective, Reprieve. The group aids political prisoners and detainees who have suffered grave human rights violations, like torture, at the hands of “powerful governments”.
In his work at Reprieve, Lewis represents Guantanamo and Afghan detainees in litigation, where he fights for “redress and accountability for torture and religious abuse while in US custody.” He has previously also written against Assange’s extradition to the US, pointing to possible lapses of rights protections that political detainees have in the country.
His testimony today sought to focus, much like the previous witnesses, on the political nature of the prosecution against Wikileaks and Assange. Lewis cited previous statements by US president Donald Trump, along with current and former members of his administration. This was done to demonstrate their keen interest in prosecuting him, something that was avoided by the previous Barack Obama administration when Chelsea Manning was prosecuted.
Lewis also stated that Assange will be virtually facing a life sentence, considering his current age (49), and that the charges against him could carry a total maximum prison sentence of 175 years. According to him, the best case scenario Assange could expect in the US would be being sentenced to jail for at least 20 years, which is still high considering Manning’s conviction only put her through 35 years in prison.
In addition, Lewis also pointed out that considering the nature of his case, Assange could be subject to Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) by political appointees in the Trump administration, because he is charged in a case pertaining to national security. SAMs are detention methods that could be subjected upon detainees, including a precedent of solitary confinement and other forms of coercive measures.
Lewis also stated that Assange will very likely be kept at the Alexandria Detention Center, near the federal capital, Washington DC, which he later hinted at also has isolated detention facilities. Lewis also told the court that it was Wikileaks’ publication of leaked documents on Afghanistan war crimes that initiated an International Criminal Court (ICC) to initiate an investigation against the US, which the Trump administration has opposed. He added that Assange’s prosecution needs to be seen in the context of such developments.
The prosecution tried to poke holes in the defense’s testimony, like last week, but could not go past the first set of questioning over the semantics of “solitary confinement”. The prosecution tried to cite a 2012 European Court of Human Rights statement on rights protection for detainees and prisoners, to which Lewis responded by noting how significantly the facts have changed since. Lewis cited the failure of the US Bureau of Prisons to identify inmates with mental health issues in the ADX Florence (a high security federal prison), leading to suicides of seven people by 2015.
In the middle of the cross-examination by the prosecution, technical difficulties arose in the courtroom. According to reports, a news clip began playing in the courtroom, over a video clip by a Fox News presenter, after which the presiding judge had to end the day’s proceedings, cutting short the prosecution’s cross examination
.@khrafnsson's recounting legal struggles and the lack of recognition of international law in the #AssangeCase pic.twitter.com/7MysjQsC80
— Don't Extradite Assange (@DEAcampaign) September 14, 2020
Scenes from today’s solidarity events outside The Old Bailey in support of Julian #Assange! With many thanks and gratitude to the people who turned up to #Stand4JulianAssange and for wonderful @EfPress for the tireless work documenting the event! pic.twitter.com/674E6ZRQtG
— Committee to Defend Julian Assange (@JA_Defence) September 14, 2020
(With inputs from Assange Defense, Courage Foundation and Kevin Gosztola)