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Death penalty 'unlikely' for Assange: experts

AFP/The Local · 9 Feb 2011, 07:57

Published: 09 Feb 2011 07:57 GMT+01:00

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The WikiLeaks founder's arrival on US soil to face trial is highly unlikely, as Obama administration lawyers have yet to come up with criminal charges that would hold up in court, despite spending three months trying to hone their case against him, legal experts said.

A spokesman for the Swedish justice ministry also denied allegations that Sweden was planning to hand Assange over to US authorities should he be extradited to Sweden.

"That's a lie. It is not true. There are no negotiations [with the US] in that field," Justice Minister Beatrice Ask's spokesman Martin Valfridsson told the AFP in January.

Valdfridsson reiterated that a Swedish prosecutor wanted to question Assange over allegations of sex offences and that if she determined there were grounds for a trial, those offences "would be the only thing that would be tried."

And experts also warned that any indictment under a sweeping anti-spying law known as the Espionage Act could also put the news media at fault, along with ordinary people who read the classified diplomatic cables leaked by Assange's group or even just shared them with others.

Federal prosecutors are seeking to build a case against Assange that could allow them to charge him with conspiracy for allegedly helping or encouraging US Army intelligence analyst Private First Class Bradley Manning to obtain and leak the secret memos from government computers.

But Assange's lawyer Geoffrey Robertson said at the start of a two-day extradition hearing Monday that his client could face a "flagrant denial of justice" if extradited to Sweden over allegations of rape and molestation.

The comments and other claims about the Swedish legal system by Assange's lawyers prompted a response from Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who emphasised that the Swedish judiciary is "independent".

"Unfortunately, this is the kind of thing you hear when (a lawyer) trying to defend a client gives a condescending description of other country's legal systems," he told reporters in Stockholm on Tuesday.

The 39-year-old Australian could even face the death penalty if further extradited to the United States on separate charges relating to WikiLeaks, Robertson said.

But any potential trial against Assange in the United States, a country that prides itself on its freedoms of speech and press, remains hypothetical at best. It doesn't help that Assange also calls himself a journalist.

"There is no prospect that Assange could be sent to Guantanamo or prosecuted for a capital crime such as treason," American University fellow in law and government Dan Marcus told AFP, noting that violating the Espionage Act in and of itself is not a capital crime.

"There have been a couple of suggestions that WikiLeaks be declared a terrorist organization, but that is not possible under existing law and doesn't make sense anyway, given our understanding of what 'terrorism' is -- WikiLeaks doesn't engage in violent activities."

Washington, meanwhile, has not sent any new prisoners to the US naval base in southern Cuba for years.

Justice Department officials refused to comment on any progress on the criminal probe launched last summer after WikiLeaks released tens of thousands of documents on US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and revamped in late November when the whistleblower began publishing the diplomatic cables.

The World War I-era Espionage Act however, is outdated and not likely to be of much help to US prosecutors.

Story continues below…

And Assange's alleged role as a middleman in the massive leak of a quarter million cables could be protected under free speech and press protections under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

"How can the first amendment not apply to WikiLeaks? I don't want the government to decide who is entitled to the First Amendment," said lawyer Victoria Toensing, who served as deputy assistant attorney general under president Ronald Reagan.

"Who is the government to say one of us is worthy, like the NYT (New York Times), and those of us who are just individuals are not worthy?"

She noted that extraditing Assange -- who is neither a US citizen nor a US resident -- to the United States would require an agreement from the European countries where he currently faces charges.

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

08:26 February 9, 2011 by Nemesis
Swedes can claim what they like. They have already been shown to be liars in this case.

Also Assange could end up in a rendition center. He could easily be executed there.

Also in the US there is a lot of judges who have a hang them high policy for everything.

Assange is in real danger.

Don't get me wrong. I think he is a smarmy, self centered, self important moron, but he does not deserve to be executed.
09:09 February 9, 2011 by UScitizen
Assange is in no danger at all from the US. This is just something to keep the mindless masses in Europe busy. They say that some politicians in the US have called for him to be executed.

Well, a US politician recently called for passing a law that makes gun ownership mandatory for everyone (it's called sarcasm and get's peoples attention).

And a few years ago a US politician want to pass a law changing the name "french fries" to "Freedom Fries" .

I'm an American and I know a little about American politicians. If you other people haven't realized that some American politicians are so full of hot air they're probably partly responsible for global warming, you need to wake up!!

Assange and his lawyers are playing all of you for fools.
09:20 February 9, 2011 by fransfatulesi
It's very danger.....

earn money fast
09:24 February 9, 2011 by RobinHood
US government legal teams have spent weeks desperately trying to build a case against Assange. Holding Bradley Manning in his own private Hell, helps; he is subject to the death penalty, and will say anything he is told, to avoid the electric chair and/or improve his conditions. Despite what the law professors say, we will not know if the Fed lawyers have built a case, until/if they apply for extradition. We do know that presidential candidates Mike Huckaby has called for Assange's execution, and Sarah Palin has called for him to be treated as an "enemy combatant", and we all know what happens to them.

Lacking a decent criminal case never got in the way of the US "war on terror". Over the past ten years, hundreds of people have been extradited to, or kidnapped by the US where they have been held without trial. Some were released years later, some are still rotting there; alone and hopeless. The founding fathers (who included many fine lawyers and humanitarians) would weep. Harvard law professors please note, having a decent legal case is superfluous, if you don't actually plan to give the defendant a trial; or try him/her in front of a biased military court.

The US legal system under the previous president, lost its moral compass, and is currently inundated with flocks of chickens come home to roost. European doubt about Assange's safety in the US is only one small chicken. The general disgust felt by non-US, and even US lawyers about what has passed for US "justice" these past ten years is a bigger one.

Swedish and US assurances that Assange will get a fair trial (or any trial), or that he will not be executed, or that he will be held in humane conditions, are worthless while presidential candidates are calling for his execution, even before he has been charged, let alone found guilty. A great deal of damage has been done to the US reputation by illegal renditions, Guantanamo, Abu Graib, torture, and the "war on terror", it is going to take many years for the necessary trust to be restored. Until then, the US and its citizens are going to have to get used to our well-founded suspicions that defendants caught up in the "war on terror" will not be treated in the manner a civilised country should treat its prisoners.
09:38 February 9, 2011 by Prat
US government cables (released via Wikileaks & Cablegate) showed officials in Sweden's Ministry of Justice subverting the democratic process and Parliament to maintain a cozy relationship with U.S. intel operations. According to the Americans, "5. (S) The MOJ team expressed their appreciation for the flexibility of the U.S. side in regards to memorializing any agreement. They expressed a strong degree of satisfaction with current informal information sharing arrangements with the U.S., and wondered whether the putative advantages of an HSPD-6 agreement for Sweden would be offset by the risk that these existing informal channels, which cover a wide range of law enforcement and anti-terrorism cooperation, would be scrutinized more intensely by Parliament and perhaps jeopardized. Xxxxxxxxx reiterated MFA concerns about the current political atmosphere in Sweden. She believed that, given Swedish constitutional requirements to present matters of national concern to Parliament and in light of the ongoing controversy over Sweden's recently passed surveillance law, it would be politically impossible for the Minister of Justice to avoid presenting any formal data sharing agreement with the United States to Parliament for review. In her opinion, the effect of this public spotlight could also place other existing informal information sharing arrangements at jeopardy."

The US government cables mention coopting the independence of the Swedish Migration Board:

"...The SMB is bound by law to accept references only from the UNHCR or Swedish embassies, although in "extremely special" cases, the Government could direct the independent SMB to consider a specific request. (Comment: Despite MFA interlocutors telling us in the past that it would be "difficult" to intervene "politically" with the work of the SMB, as in ref B, xxxxxxxxx explicitly noted that possibility. ..."
10:44 February 9, 2011 by Nilspet
Exact as Nemesis said .. Sweden can say what they like. The problem is that a lot of people out there do not believe them now (concerning the JA case). The legal team that were set up to go after JA miscalculated that they would be up against the world media.
14:17 February 9, 2011 by Syftfel
It is highly unlikely that Assange would get death at the hands of the U.S. He would however definitely be eliminated if any of the other nations whose secrets he exposed, such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, Russia, Yemen, Venezuela, Egypt, Iran to mention a few, get their clutches on him.
22:10 February 9, 2011 by Arturio
There is some evidence or reliable witnesses? No, so we dont know if he what she is telling is true.

I'm sure that in Sweden there are more criminals among immigrants then racists among the swedish
07:12 February 10, 2011 by philster61
When nutjobs like Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee call for his execution. and considering that Palin is fast becoming a rising (not credible) candidate for the next election. I think Assange has a lot to be concerned about.

Kinda strikes me as suspicious that Sweden is adamant that he be on Swedish soil. Whats the urgency? I would not at all be surprised if he somehow underwent Rendition once he landed on Swedish soil. Sweden has been already recently been compliant in some secret flights in and out already. Whats to stop them from allowing it to happen again?
13:34 February 10, 2011 by Steve911
The fact is that if JA voluntary goes to or is extradited to Sweden, he will immediately be arrested and held in detention on arrival for perhaps over a year in some stinking jail for foreigners. The Swedes already managed to get him locked up in prison in the UK for about 10 days. The main purpose is to deny him access to the internet and the media so it will slow down the release of the Wikileak logs. The legal case the Swedes are purporting to pursue against JA is a sham. Tabloid newspapers love a good sex story, especially when its distracts people from reading the real message about the corruption and illegal activities of our governments exposed by Wikileaks.

Many UK legal experts doubt if Sweden will succeed in get JA extradited for so called questioning. So Sweden should brace itself for heavy court costs and serious international embarrassment. Even, if they get him to Sweden, what then? He will just say, 'you have already questioned me and I have answered your questions, I have nothing further to say. Charge me or let me go. There is no new evidence other than the SMS messages of the 2 women (which you don't let me see), so perhaps you should question the women about them.' The fact that Ms Ny doesn't have the guts to charge JA proves that even she knows that the case against JA is extremely weak. It is unlikely that his so called accusers will give evidence in court against JA because they would lay themselves open to a charge of perjury and in any event one of them is living in Palestine now.

14:19 February 11, 2011 by Syftfel
@philster61; Your use of the term "nutjob" to describe Plain and Huckabee makes it abundantly clear where your sympathies lie. Neither of them have said that Assange should get the needle. Both have said that he should be prosecuted "to fullest extent of the law". Allow me to profile you. - You are an American living in Sweden. You are probably a minority. You have never worked a day in your life but subsist on others, tax payers or otherwise. You are an obamavoter who thinks that his socialist income distributing policies are the way to go. You wish to punish success. You absolutely detest George Bush. (I bet you don't hate him as much as I completely despise obama). You think that hip-hop is an acceptable artform. You think that graffiti represents freedom of expression. - I am diametrically opposed to everything you stand for and will ferociously fight you at the ballot box in 2012. Good riddance!! I do not think Palin will run for, or be elected, President. But she does have an important message to deliver. Leftists like you would prefer prohibit opposing views. Thank God for conservative talk radio. As for Assange, please refer to my earlier post above. PS before shriek "racist", note that my partner is 3/4 mestizo indian 1/4 black.
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