Friday, August 17, 2012

Some Straight Talk On The Julian Assange Case

The whole world watches with fascination as Julian Asdsange takes shelter in the Embassy of Ecuador in London. He has been granted political assylum. How this diplomatic or legal move plays out remains to be seen. It will set some precedents.
Assange claims that if he is returned to Sweden to face some low-level sexual misconduct case, he will be turned over to American authorities. He will , in his version of the future, find himself back in the US and facing the death penalty for treason.
There are several inconsistencies here. First he is in much more danger of being sent back to the USA from Britain. Britain has an express extradition treaty with the US. An American fugitive found in Britain can be sent back to the USA quickly. Britain also has a long tradition of inhibiting freedom of the press and media access to confidential government matters. For decades or centuries the British government has issued infamous "D Notices" stopping the press from reporting confidential government matters and mistakes. A leaker of secrets like Assange would find little or no sympathy with British officials.
Second would Britain allow Assange to be sent back to the USA to face the death penalty? The answer is no. In international law you have something called the Doctrine of Speciality that governs international extraditions. This is often employed by states without the death penalty to insure that wanted criminals sent back to a state with the death penalty are not subject to the death penalty. This doctrine also assures that one sent to another country to face charges only faces the charges int he extradition request and does not face other charges brought up late.
In the case of the US, treason is so difficult to prove that such a charge is rarely raised. Normally defendants are charged with espionage. The last execution for espionage in the US took place almost 60 years ago when the Rosenbergs were electrocuted in Sing Sing Prison.
Assuming that Assange was sent back to Sweden he would get a sentence in the range of 12-18 months. His sentence would be served at a humane prison.
Would the Swedes send Assange back to the US? I think not. The Swedes have a strong tradition of a free press and would not see what Assange did as a crime. I doubt that they would deport Assange back to Australia. The US could easily arrest him there and have him sent back to the USA. The Swedes most likely would send Assange to Ecuador where he has been granted political assylum.
How could Assange escape England? This is an interesting question. A helicopter could appear above the Embassy of Ecuador at midnight and Assange could climb a ladder onto the helicopter. The helicopter could then fly to a ship in international waters and lower him onto the ship. He would then sail to Ecuador.
In another scenario, a government of Ecuador plane could land at some British airport. Assange could be put into a crate that was declared a diplomatic pouch and sealed. Assange would then be driven tot the British airport and put on the Ecuadorian plane.
Assange is of little consequence to the British. They are worried that if he uses this tactic to evade justice some really serious terrorists and major organized crime figures will start to use this tactic to evade justice.