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Monday, Jun 14, 2021

Doubts emerge in US over future of Assange extradition case

Doubts emerge in US over future of Assange extradition case

Joe Biden’s priorities could scupper extradition of WikiLeaks co-founder, says departing Virginia attorney
The American prosecutor seeking to put Julian Assange on trial in the US has said he is uncertain if Joe Biden’s incoming White House administration will continue to seek the extradition of the WikiLeaks co-founder.

Zachary Terwilliger, who was appointed by Donald Trump, made the comments as it was announced that he was stepping down as the US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

“It will be very interesting to see what happens with this case. There’ll be some decisions to be made. Some of this does come down to resources and where you’re going to focus your energies,” he told NPR.

The departure of Terwilliger as the prosecutor in Virginia, where Assange would be tried on espionage and hacking charges if extradited from the UK, comes as the 49-year-old is hoping to be successful in a bail application on Wednesday at Westminster magistrates court in London.

Assange’s lawyers are expected to press for bail on the basis that his chances of avoiding extradition to the US have been greatly boosted by a legal win on Monday at the Old Bailey, when a judge ruled that health grounds mean he should not be extradited.

They will also emphasise new family ties here in the UK revolving around the two young children he has fathered with his partner, Stella Moris. Assange would be bailed to their home address and would wear an ankle tag.

Lawyers for US authorities have indicated that they will appeal against Monday’s ruling by a district judge Vanessa Baraitser, who was sitting at the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales. While rejecting arguments that Assange would not get a fair trial in the US she blocked extradition on the basis that procedures in prisons there would not prevent him from potentially taking his own life.

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, Virginia, said that a pardon of Assange by Donald Trump was unlikely, adding that it was “more likely” that the US Department of Justice will file an appeal before the president leaves office on 20 January and attempt to refute the judge’s views on the US prison system.

He added: “The major decisions will fall to Biden and the new administration, namely his attorney general and US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, where Assange was charged and would be tried, and those officials may not be confirmed for several months.”

Assange was one of the first major issues that Biden and the new DoJ leadership were likely to face and assumed symbolic and actual importance, he said.

“My sense is that Biden and his team will not allow the issue to be decided by attrition but will want to seriously consider all of the relevant issues and make the best possible decision.”

The case against Assange relates to WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as diplomatic cables, in 2010 and 2011.

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