Life in Supermax for the Crime of 'Merely Doing Journalism'? UK Court Told Assange Likely to Be Sent to Notorious US Prison

Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange protest outside London's Old Bailey court on September 7, 2020 as his fight against extradition to the U.S. resumed. (Photo: Richard Baker/Getty Images)

Life in Supermax for the Crime of 'Merely Doing Journalism'? UK Court Told Assange Likely to Be Sent to Notorious US Prison

A former warden at ADX Florence has described doing time in the Colorado prison as "a fate worse than death."

Julian Assange would likely be incarcerated in what is arguably America's most notorious super-maximum security prison if he is extradited to the U.S. from the U.K. and convicted of charges resulting from his journalism, a British court heard Tuesday.

The Associated Pressreports Maureen Baird, a former federal prison warden in New York City, told London's Old Bailey that the WikiLeaks founder and war crimes whistleblower would likely be imprisoned in the ADX Florence prison in Colorado if he is convicted for violating the 1917 Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by publishing secret U.S. military documents a decade ago.

Among the massive trove of documents published by WikiLeaks were the Afghanistan and Iraq War Logs, which revealed U.S. and allied war crimes, many of them exposed by Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

The most infamous of the leaks is the "Collateral Murder" video, which shows U.S. Army attack helicopter crews laughing and joking while massacring a group of Iraqi civilians, including journalists, and shooting children and first responders.

None of the soldiers in the video or their commanders--or anyone involved in the numerous other war crimes revealed by WikiLeaks--has ever faced serious punishment.

Manning, on the other hand, was convicted and sentenced in 2013 to 35 years in prison, in part for leaking the video to WikiLeaks. Her sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama in 2017 after she had served a total of seven years behind bars. She was jailed again for two months in 2019 for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury.

Assange faces up to 175 years behind bars if found guilty of all charges.

Assange's defense team say his First Amendment rights are being violated and that he suffers from wide-ranging mental health issues, including suicidal tendencies, resulting from his imprisonment in Britain's Belmarsh Prison since 2019 for dodging a 2010 Swedish international arrest warrant for bail-related offenses. His attorneys say he is at "high risk of suicide" if extradited to the U.S.

Last year, over 60 medical doctors described conditions endured by Assange--which include up to 23 hours a day of solitary confinement--as "prolonged psychological torture."

Advocates fear Assange's suffering could be exacerbated in the infamously harsh U.S. prison system. Baird told Old Bailey the 49-year-old Australian would face conditions which she has seen cause mental health issues, including anxiety and paranoia.

"From my experience of close to three decades of working in federal prisons, I would agree that long-term isolation can have serious negative effects on an inmate's mental health," she said.

Baird said inmates at ADX Florence spend almost all day every day locked in their cells with no contact with other prisoners and almost no contact with the outside world. She said it is almost certain Assange would be sent to the Colorado prison, unless he was "almost dying."

Former ADX Florence warden Robert Hood has described the prison as "not built for humanity," and said being imprisoned there was "a fate worse than death."

Baird said Assange would likely be held under the same special administrative measures (SAMs) applied to international terrorists, drug kingpins, and other prisoners jailed at ADX Florence.

High-profile ADX Florence inmates include Oklahoma City terrorist Terry Nichols, "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski, Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph, Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tzarnaev, and al-Qaeda terrorists Ramzi Yousef, Abu Hamza, Richard Reid, and Zacarias Moussaoui.

Critics expressed outrage that Assange--who has won numerous prestigious international journalism and whistleblower awards and who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize--could be imprisoned for the rest of his life for the "crime" of journalism and exposing war crimes, government and corporate corruption, and other wrongdoing.

On Wednesday, two former employees of the Spanish security firm UC Global testified anonymously in Old Bailey that they and U.S. intelligence discussed poisoning or kidnapping Assange while he was exiled for nearly seven years in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

One witness, an IT expert, said he refused to install microphones and streaming video recording devices because he "did not want to collaborate in an illegal act of this magnitude." According to the witnesses, Assange's conversations were systematically bugged, even while he was using the toilet.

Former Ecuadorean Consul-General Fidel Narvaez said on Wednesday that he has "seen... enough evidence of the spying," including secret audio and video recordings allegedly made by UC Global for the U.S. government.

The decision whether to extradite Assange to the U.S.-- an act formally requested by the Trump administration last year--will not be made until after the November American presidential election, according to presiding Judge Vanessa Baraitser.

President Donald Trump, and other leading Republicans, have previously called for Assange's execution, although this has no bearing on the U.K. court's decision.

Earlier this month, Common Dreamsreported that Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg said the U.S. is seeking not only "revenge" against Assange, but also to "crush" future whistleblowers by extraditing, prosecuting, and jailing him for the rest of his life.

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