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IBA: Assange treatment during extradition hearing ‘reminiscent of Abu Ghraib’ prison scandal

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International Bar Association compares Wikileaks founder’s ‘mistreatment’ to torture of Iraqi detainees

Julian Assange – image via Wikimedia Commons (Cancillería del Ecuador)

An international lawyers’ association has hit out at the treatment of Julian Assange during his ongoing extradition proceedings, comparing it to the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.

In a statement last week, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) said that Assange’s “repeated mistreatment” was “reminiscent of the Abu Grahib Prison Scandal”.

Lawyers for Assange, who is wanted in the US for leaking intelligence, say that he has been unnecessarily manhandled by prison staff.

In response, the IBAHRI said that it “concurs with the widespread concern over the ill-treatment of Mr Assange”.

Assange has some legal heavyweights in his corner — just as well, given that he faces 18 US charges relating to the release of classified information. His solicitor is Gareth Peirce, a civil liberties veteran at Birnberg Pierce. On their feet are Edward Fitzgerald QC, co-head of Doughty Chambers Chambers, and extradition specialist Mark Summers QC of Matrix Chambers.

His legal team say that during the early stages of the extradition proceedings, Assange has been handcuffed 11 times, strip-searched twice and had his case files confiscated. The judge at Woolwich Crown Court also refused his request to sit alongside his lawyers rather than in the dock.

The Australian reportedly complained that “I’m unable to guide them [the QCs]” from across the room.

The IBAHRI’s co-chair, former Australian judge Michael Kirby, said that Assange’s “mistreatment” could be a breach of the UN convention against torture. He also hit out at the government for taking “no action to terminate such gross and disproportionate conduct” and presiding judge Vanessa Baraitser for failing to speak up for Assange.

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Kirby added:

“Many countries in the world look to Britain as an example in such matters. On this occasion, the example is shocking and excessive. It is reminiscent of the Abu Grahib Prison Scandal which can happen when prison officials are not trained in the basic human rights of detainees.”

Prisoners at Abu Ghraib were tortured, raped, smeared with human faeces and threatened with dogs in a notorious series of human rights abuses that came to light in 2004.

In a less than startling reveal, the IBAHRI also pointed out that Assange has the right to a fair trial under the Human Rights Act 1998. Its other co-chair, Swedish lawyer Anne Ramberg, said that “with this extradition trial we are witnessing the serious undermining of due process and the rule of law”.

The hearing ran for four days in February 2020 but has now been adjourned until May 2020, when there will be another three weeks of legal argument.

Public sympathy for Assange took a dive after he jumped bail and holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy for almost seven years to avoid a rape investigation by the Swedish authorities.

But now that the issue is extradition to the US rather than Sweden, some lawyers take the view that — to quote the US Supreme Court — “the safeguards of liberty have frequently been forged in controversies involving not very nice people”.

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