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A London court will rule on Julian Assange's extradition to the U.S.


On Monday at a High Court hearing in London, the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, will find out if judges are satisfied with assurances from the U.S. government about how he might be treated if he's tried in the United States. In 2010, Assange's organization published thousands of leaked documents about the U.S. military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. His supporters say it highlighted abuse by the U.S., but his critics say it placed human intelligence sources in grave danger. Assange faces 18 charges under the U.S. Espionage Act. Journalist Willem Marx joins us now from London. Good morning, Willem.

WILLEM MARX: Good morning.

KEITH: So what can we expect from tomorrow's hearing?

MARX: Well, back in March, just to give you some context, the High Court here in London considered Assange's attempts to appeal his extradition from the U.K. to the U.S., which the British interior minister had already ordered. The U.S. wants to charge him with these multiple acts of espionage and one of computer misuse. And back in March, he was essentially seeking permission to appeal that extradition decision on nine different grounds, and the court at the time said he had, quote, "real prospect of success" in three separate legal areas of his appeal.

The judges back in March said they needed to receive assurances about those three grounds for appeal from the U.S. government once Assange ended up in the United States legal system, namely that he'd be able to rely on his First Amendment rights; he'd be treated no differently to a U.S. citizen; and he'd not receive the death penalty. And so tomorrow, we'll find out if the judges are happy with promises the U.S. government and, indeed, the U.K. government have made since then. If they're not happy, then Assange will definitely be given leave to appeal. If they are happy with those promises, he may still be given the chance to appeal, but that's not guaranteed and would rely instead on arguments made by his lawyers tomorrow in court.

KEITH: And depending on their decision, what could happen next?

MARX: He could be given grounds to appeal the British government's decision to extradite him, at which point, dare I say it, this would drag on longer. If the judges do decide to let him be extradited to the U.S., the only higher authority left for an appeal would be the European Court of Human rights. That would require Assange's team to file an appeal motion before that court and for that European court to intervene really quickly, essentially before the British Americans arrange his military transport to the United States.

If he does eventually end up in the U.S., though, he'll face these 18 charges. That's around a possible sentence of 175 years. It's worth noting not many people really expect that to be his final sentence. And, of course, let's not forget there's also a chance he'd actually be acquitted in an American court, as well.

KEITH: This has been a long and winding road. What do you know about how Assange has been handling all of this?

MARX: I mean, yeah, this would be a 13-year legal struggle in the U.K. It began with criminal allegations from Sweden. It's now essentially ending with a tussle over the differences between the U.S. and the U.K. legal systems. He spent five years in a southeast London maximum-security prison after jumping bail, and that was linked to his seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy here in London.

His wife, Stella, who's been central to his campaign for freedom the last few years, she said in a recent interview she's got no idea how this could go. He could either be freed, she thinks, or on a plane to the U.S. Either could happen within a couple days. Don't forget the U.S. government said that his publication of classified information was dangerous; it was reckless. But those close to him say that he really has suffered tremendous mental stress in recent years, and that includes, obviously, having trouble sleeping.

KEITH: That's reporter Willem Marx in London. Willem, thank you for joining us.

MARX: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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