The government has so far declined to investigate the possibility that Julian Assange may be extradited from Sweden to the United States in the likely event Assange loses his appeal against extradition from the United Kingdom in early December, it was revealed today.
This morning Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd responded to a series of questions about the government’s handling of Assange’s case from Greens Senator Scott Ludlam from October.
Ludlam asked about several issues but concentrated on what support Assange had been provided with and whether the government had sought to confirm a number of reports that the US is preparing to seek to extradite Assange from Sweden under a grand jury indictment for espionage via a process known as “temporary surrender”. The Assange camp argues that “temporary surrender”, a bilateral arrangement for people charged with crimes in two countries simultaneously that exists between many countries, would enable the US and Sweden to avoid many of the procedural requirements and opportunities for appeal that exist under normal extradition arrangements — in effect enabling a form of rendition.
Rudd’s response to Ludlam outlines a series of actions by Australian consular officials in London and Stockholm, mostly just under a year ago during and immediately after Assange’s spell in custody during the early stages of his extradition process. According to Rudd, the government sought assurances from Sweden on three separate occasions that Assange would be afforded “due process”, but they were in December 2010 and January and February this year.
No further contact with the Swedish government on Assange has apparently been made since then, despite the likelihood that Assange, if prosecuted, would be tried in secret and be held incommunicado once in custody.
However, the government has been far less diligent in raising the Assange case with the US, where a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia has been gathering evidence to charge Assange and others under the Espionage Act, which potentially carries the death penalty. Rudd’s response merely indicates the government is “closely monitoring all developments” but was not aware of any extradition request or charges against Assange in the US.
In relation to the specific issue of the grand jury investigation, however, Rudd’s answer was somewhat more cryptic. “The Australian government has no formal advice of any grand jury investigation,” is all he would state, leaving open the possibility the issue had been raised informally or at officials’ level.
Rudd also handpassed several matters to Attorney-General Robert McClelland, (correctly) saying the issue of whether ASIO could now spy on Assange under the “WikiLeaks amendment” passed earlier this year to expand its powers, and issues to do with the possibility of Assange being extradited from Australia, were matters for McClelland.
During the height of the WikiLeaks cables controversy late in 2010, Rudd took a markedly different line on Assange from the prime minister and McCelland, slapping down suggestions Assange might have his passport cancelled, committing to provide support for Assange during his incarceration and suggesting the real fault for the release of the cables lay with the US government. McCelland suggested Assange may have breached “a number of criminal laws” which, like the prime minister’s claims of “illegality”, were proven false by a subsequent AFP investigation.
Assange’s UK lawyer Gareth Peirce spelt out her concerns about the temporary surrender régime in place between the US and Sweden in a letter to Rudd — via Malcolm Turnbull — in September, and in particular the capacity for a temporary surrender application to avoid the normal avenues of appeal provided under normal extradition. However, there is an alternative view that all normal procedural requirements and rights of appeal would apply in the event the US applied for the surrender of Assange while he is in custody in Sweden. Assange is yet to be charged with any offence in Sweden, but expects to be taken into custody on arrival.
The government has also noted that neither Australia nor Sweden would agree to extradition unless the death penalty was removed as a possible outcome of any trial.