Friday, December 17, 2010

How the US treats leakers

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was finally granted bail in the UK last night, but also seems certain to be extradited to Sweden to face rape charges. Meanwhile, the US are reportedly planning to extradite him from there on conspiracy charges, alleging that he solicited the leaked cables, making him a party to their leaking (a theory which would also criminalise most investigative journalism). So how would he be treated if extradited? The treatment of the alleged leaker, Bradley Manning, provides a clue:

From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement. For 23 out of 24 hours every day -- for seven straight months and counting -- he sits completely alone in his cell. Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he's barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions.
Its reasonable to assume that the punitive United States "justice" system would apply the same conditions to Assange if extradited, if not in remand (and remember, Manning is a remand prisoner who has not yet faced trial, let alone been convicted), then certainly if he is convicted. And this is a problem for the US - because the European Court of Human Rights has already halted extraditions on the grounds that this sort of "supermax" confinement is torture. The reason? Prolonged solitary confinement drives you mad, meaning it qualifies as "severe [mental] pain or suffering" under the Convention Against Torture.

No civilised country extradites people to torture. Which means even if Assange is sent to Sweden to face justice there, he shouldn't go any further. At least, not legally. Its worth remembering that one of the first renditions publicised was from Sweden. And that's the real risk Assange is facing: not lawful extradition, but Sweden's "informal" obedience to the US.