The UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has approved the extradition of the WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange to the United States.
The case passed to Patel last month after the UK supreme court refused to hear Assange’s appeal against extradition on 14 March, ruling that there were no legal questions over assurances given by the US authorities on how Assange would be treated.
WikiLeaks released a statement to say it would appeal against Patel’s decision.
The statement said anyone who cared about freedom of expression should be ‘deeply ashamed’ that the home secretary had approved Assange’s extradition.
“Julian did nothing wrong. He has committed no crime and is not a criminal. He is a journalist and a publisher and he is being punished for doing his job,” it said. “It was in Priti Patel’s power to do the right thing. Instead she will for ever be remembered as an accomplice of the United States in its agenda to turn investigative journalism into a criminal enterprise.”
If extradited, Assange will face espionage charges in the US for publishing confidential state documents, including military records and classified diplomatic communications.
He was indicted in the US in May 2019 on 17 charges under the Espionage Act, which carried a maximum sentence of 170 years in prison. The Obama administration had earlier debated charging him under the Act but decided not to out of concern that it would lead to violation of press freedom and could be unconstitutional.
‘Collateral Murder’ video and ‘Iraq War Logs’
WikiLeaks had come under particular attention worldwide after it began publishing documents supplied by US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.
In April 2010, it released a video (dubbed ‘Collateral Murder’) that showed U.S. soldiers fatally shooting 18 civilians from a helicopter in Iraq, including Reuters journalists Namir Noor-Eldeen and his assistant Saeed Chmagh. Reuters had previously made a request to the US government for the video but had been denied. Assange and others reportedly worked for a week to break the US military’s encryption of the video.
In October of the same year, the ‘Iraq War Logs’ was released. It consists of 391,000 US Army field reports of the US military operations in Iraq between 2004-2009, recording 66,081 civilian deaths. The leak resulted in the Iraq Body Count project adding 15,000 civilian deaths to their count, bringing their total to over 150,000.
Embassy cable: ‘Discourage Norway from contact with the PKK’
Among the leaked US diplomatic cables, one, dated 6 April 2006 and classified by ambassador Ross Wilson as secret, originated from the US Embassy in the Turkish capital Ankara. It drew conclusions on an analysis of relations with Turkey that had gone through ‘a rocky period’ from 2003 to 2005, and assessed that Turkey should be provided with greater support in targeting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The 9th article in the cable read:
“Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General for Security Affairs Hayati Guven presented the Department on March 16 with a list of additional requested USG actions, some of which are being worked. These include:
– Press European governments to arrest and extradite suspected PKK terrorists (and working with the Turks to demonstrate the required breadth and depth of evidence);
– Urge European governments to monitor and prevent the activities of front organizations supporting the PKK;
– Discourage Norway from government, political party and NGO contact with the PKK and consideration of granting the PKK status as a legitimate organization;
– Help the Turks examine whether evidence can be gathered to prove a financial link between Roj TV and the PKK;
– Move the effort to block financial flows and arrest “PKK in Europe” figures to the next level by creating trilateral law enforcement and intelligence working groups; expand the effort beyond France and Germany; and intensify legal cooperation and assistance to Turkey in the preparation of extradition requests.”
“We need to make the PKK a significantly higher priority in our dialogue with Europe and ensure it is raised when senior USG officials meet their European counterparts.”
Impact of the leaked cable on court case in Belgium
In a court case that began in Belgium in 2009, political pressure on Belgium by Turkey and the US to apply the label of ‘terrorist organisation’ to the PKK was exposed in large part due to the revealing communication in the leaked cable.
In December 2021 Belgian lawyer Jan Fermon told Medyanews:
“This political pressure, applied by first Turkey and subsequently the US, might never have come to light were it not for WikiLeaks, who leaked the official memos that detailed and exposed all of the political manoeuvrings that went on secretly between Turkey, the US and Belgium regarding the attempts to criminalise the PKK.”
In January 2020, the Belgian Court of Cassation confirmed a decision by the Brussels Court of Appeal that the PKK should not be classified as a terrorist organisation.