WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange needs to face justice in the US, because his leaks put secret sources at “grave and imminent risk” — with some even disappearing, prosecutors said during opening statements in his extradition case Monday.
Assange’s attorney said in the UK court hearing that the journalist would not get a fair trial in the US, where he faces a maximum sentence of 175 years for violating espionage laws and poses a clear suicide risk.
However, James Lewis, representing the US government, insisted Assange should not be protected as a free-speech champion but treated as a “straightforward” criminal who put lives at risk with “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.”
Assange’s work also helped America’s enemies — with WikiLeaks documents found in al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s compound after he was killed in Pakistan, Woolwich Crown Court was told.
“What Mr. Assange seems to defend by freedom of speech is not the publication of the classified materials but the publication of the names of the sources, the names of people who had put themselves at risk to assist the United States and its allies,” Lewis told the court.
Hundreds of people across the world had to be warned after the 2010 dump of hundreds of thousands of secret military documents and diplomatic cables, Lewis said.
Some were relocated, while others “subsequently disappeared,” Lewis claimed, conceding that it had not been proven to be a direct result of the disclosures.
It is not the role of the British court to determine whether Assange is guilty, he reminded the hearing.
“This is an extradition hearing, not a trial,” he said. “The guilt or innocence of Mr. Assange will be determined at trial in the United States, not in this court.”
Assange watched the proceedings from the dock in the courtroom — brought there from Belmarsh Prison next door, where he has been held for 10 months.
The hearing brought out a large show of support — so much so that Assange complained about not being able to hear all the testimony because of the chants from outside.
Celebrity supporters there included fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, who wore a headband with the word “angel” on it and said she was “the angel of democracy.”
“It is not a crime to publish American war crimes,” she said. “It’s in the public interest, it is democracy, that he is allowed to do this.”
With Post wires
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