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Julian Assange would be held in ‘solitary confinement’ in US jail

WikiLeaks founder would be held in a cell the size of a parking space for 22 or 23 hours a day without contact with other inmates before trial

Julian Assange would be held in conditions equivalent to solitary confinement if extradited to the US, a court heard today.

Yancey Ellis, a lawyer and former public defender, told the Old Bailey that Assange would be held in a cell for 22 to 23 hours a day without contact with other inmates.

Giving evidence on the 14th day of an extradition hearing, Ellis said Assange was likely to be held at the Truesdale Adult Detention Centre in Alexandria, Virginia as he awaited trial.

The 49-year-old WikiLeaks founder would be detained in a cell of 50ft2 or less – the size of a parking space – equipped with a shelf and a mat for sleeping, a small metal toilet and sink in the prison’s “X block”, said Ellis.

“The whole point is to keep you away from other inmates,” he added. “If there are other inmates in the unit, it is most likely you would be in the cells all the time.”

Assange faces extradition to the US over allegations of encouraging hacking and faces one count under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and 17 counts under the Espionage Act, which carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.

Lawyer had to scream at the ‘top of his lungs’ to speak to prisoner

Ellis questioned assertions by US prosecutor Gordon Kromberg that prisoners would be able to communicate with each through doors and windows.

He said that when he had visited prisoners in the X block, it had been almost impossible to speak to them. The cell doors were made of thick steel and the windows were made of transparent thick plexiglass with no slots or holes.

Ellis said he had only been able to talk to inmates by asking a deputy sheriff to open the cell’s food tray slot. “I have tried to communicate with clients through the doors. It is very difficult. You would have to scream at the top of your lungs,” he said.

Ellis said anyone making the assertion that prisoners could communicate with each other either had not tried it, or was not familiar with the conditions there.

“Especially if he [Kromberg] is referring to two inmates talking to each other, I don’t see how that would be possible,” he said.

Prisoners under special administrative measures (SAMS) would face additional restrictions on prison visits and phone calls, said Ellis.

Questioned by Edward Fitzgerald QC for the defence, Ellis said medical care at the jail was “very limited”.

“They have some social workers and professional counsellors on staff. The jail does not employ a doctor and the contractor they use gives part-time access to a psychiatrist,” he said.

Ellis said prisoners he had acted for in the jail would not see a psychiatrist for several weeks, which meant there was no close monitoring of the medication they received.

No special treatment

James Lewis QC for the prosecution asked Ellis whether he had interviewed the governor or the warden of Alexandria Detention Centre, the medical staff at the prison, the detention staff or the psychiatrist who attends the jail.

“You have given a one-sided picture,” he said.

Lewis asked whether Ellis was aware of inspection reports of the prison conducted for the federal government by the US Marshals Service and state inspectors from Virginia, including a report from 2017 that had found no completed suicides at the prison.

“They have a good record when it comes to [preventing] completed suicides,” said Ellis.

The court heard that Chelsea Manning, who leaked hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, attempted suicide at the jail.

Lewis argued that Assange would have a “phalanx of lawyers” looking out for him, who would be able to make the “minutest criticism” if he did not receive proper care.

Ellis disagreed, saying: “To my knowledge, the Alexandria jail does not give special treatment.”

Under questioning from Fitzgerald, Ellis said Assange would be held in administrative segregation [adseg] in the X block and would not be allowed to take part in prison educational programmes.

“Based on my experience with Alexandria jail, I believe he would be placed in administrative segregation in the X block,” he said.

Judge Vanessa Baraister asked Ellis why he believed Assange would be held in administrative segregation.

“The primary reason is that he is a public figure,” he said. “It would be the mental health aspect combined with the high profile.”

As a public prosecutor, Ellis said he represented people who were held at the Virginia jail, including several who had spent time in the adseg unit.

Under adseg, Assange would not be permitted access to a computer or the internet, but would be allowed to see lawyers for up to three hours a day.

The jail is frequently used for high-profile defendants, Ellis told the court. These have included Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for president Trump, Maria Butina, a Russian agent operating in the US, and former soldier Chelsea Manning.

 The case continues.

Read more about Julian Assange’s September extradition hearing at the Old Bailey

Read more on Hackers and cybercrime prevention

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