By Masood Farivar
WASHINGTON - The Justice Department has formally asked Britain to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States to face a raft of charges related to his release of a massive trove of secret diplomatic cables and war logs, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.
A formal request for Assange's extradition was delivered to British authorities last Thursday, just days before a June 11 deadline.
Under an extradition treaty with the United Kingdom, the U.S. had 60 days from the date of Assange's April 11 arrest in London to file a formal request for his handover. The treaty bars U.S. prosecutors from charging Assange with crimes not outlined in the request, making the filing of additional counts against Assange highly unlikely.
The Australian-born computer programmer and activist is being sought to face charges in federal court in Northern Virginia that he worked with former Army specialist Chelsea Manning to unlawfully obtain and publish hundreds of thousands of reports about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as conditions within the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Assange had eluded arrest for seven years by holing up in Ecuador's embassy in London until Ecuadorian officials turned against him in April.
After Assange's arrest by London police, U.S. prosecutors unsealed a year-old indictment charging Assange with a single count of computer intrusion in connection with the publication of the secret documents. But last month, they upped the ante, accusing Assange in a new 18-count superseding indictment of violating the 1917 Espionage Act by distributing classified information.
Assange, 47, faces up to ten years in prison for each of the new charges.
The Espionage Act was enacted by Congress to deter spies from passing secret information to foreign governments. The last time a grand jury returned an indictment under the law was during World War II.
The Espionage charges against Assange have provoked outrage among press freedom advocates who worry that the government could use the law to prosecute others for distributing confidential defense information.
Yet it remains far from certain that Assange will stand trial in the United States. That is because the U.S.-U.K. treaty prohibits extradition for the specific charges Assange faces.
"Espionage is generally considered a political offense, and the treaty forbids extraditing someone charged with political offenses," John T. Nelson, a legal fellow at the Just Security blog, wrote recently.
Assange founded WikiLeaks in 2006 as "an intelligence agency of the people." To obtain secret documents to publish on his website, he "repeatedly encouraged sources with access to classified information to steal and provide it to WikiLeaks to disclose," prosecutors wrote in the superseding indictment.
Assange took refuge at the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 to avoid possible extradition to Sweden to face charges that he raped a Swedish woman. A Swedish court ruled last week that Assange should not be extradited to Sweden but should still be questioned in the case while he is imprisoned in Britain.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should not be extradited to Sweden for a revived rape investigation, but should still be questioned in the case while he is imprisoned in Britain, a Swedish court ruled Monday, The ruling by the Uppsala District Court. doesn't mean the preliminary rape investigation must be abandoned, only that Assange won't be extradited to Sweden for now. Eva-Marie Persson, Sweden's deputy director of public prosecutions, said she has not decided yet.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange leaves Southwark Crown Court after being sentenced in London, Britain, May 1, 2019.
Swedish prosecutors are reopening the rape case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange following a request from the lawyer of one of the alleged victims. Assange was arrested last month in Ecuador's embassy in London, after the country reversed its decision to give him asylum. The 47-year-old Australian national is also wanted in the United States on hacking charges and the British government will now have to decide which extradition request should take priority.
Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange held placards and a banners in protest outside Westminster Magistrates Court in London on May 30, 2019.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange missed a court session Thursday, apparently due to health problems. He had been expected to appear from prison via video link at a brief extradition hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court. Lawyer Gareth Peirce told the court Assange was "not very well.''
Assange is due to appear this Friday at Westminster Court in London but his ill-health may not provide him with the strength to stand trial.
At briefing Tuesday at the Foreign press Association, a former Icelandic minister of the Interior revealed that an FBI delegation landed in Iceland capital in 2015 with the objective of framing Assange so that he could stand trial either in Britain or Sweden. The minister ordered the FBI delegation to go back to the US.
the Editor of Wikileaks also said that Assange’s detention is politically motivated and that press freedom is now on trial.