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
- Lawyers for Julian Assange say the US has introduced an 11th hour indictment against the WikiLeaks founder that provides additional grounds for his extradition.
- On the second day of his extradition hearing at the Old Bailey, judge informs the WikiLeaks founder he could be removed and potentially banned from court for interrupting witnesses.
- US journalism historian and investigative journalist Mark Feldstein tells a UK court that use of the Espionage Act against Assange will have wide implications for the press.
- Trevor Timm, co-founder of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, tells a court that if the US prosecutes Julian Assange, every reporter who receives a secret document will be criminalised.
- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be held under special administrative measures if extradited to the US, said Eric Lewis, a US legal expert, effectively placing him in solitary confinement.
- MEPs and NGOs say they have been denied access to observe extradition proceedings against WikiLeaks founder in Central Criminal Court.
- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange held back 15,000 documents from publication at the request of the US government, a court heard today.
- Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked highly classified documents that changed the course of the Vietnam War in the 1970s, says WikiLeaks exposed a serious pattern of US war crimes.
- WikiLeaks and its media partners used software developed by an independent non-government organisation (NGO) to redact information that could identify individuals from 400,000 classified documents on the Iraq war, a court heard today.
- New Zealand investigative journalist and author Nicky Hager said that WikiLeaks’ publication of a video showing a US helicopter firing on civilians, along with the publication of secret war logs, ‘electrified’ the world to civilian deaths.
- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was offered a “win-win” deal that would allow him “to get on with his life” and benefit US president Donald Trump.
- Khalid El-Masri said that disclosures by WikiLeaks showed that the US had intervened in a German judicial investigation into his torture and kidnapping by the CIA.
- Trump supporter Cassandra Fairbanks was given advanced details of US plans to oust Wikileaks founder Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy and to arrest him for over documents leaked by former soldier Chelsea Manning.
- WikiLeaks published unredacted cables after password was disclosed in book by Guardian journalist David Leigh.
- Julian Assange is on the autistic spectrum and has a history of depression that would put him at risk of suicide if he is extradited to a US prison.
- Nigel Blackwood, NHS consultant psychiatrist, told the Old Bailey court that although WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had ‘moderate depression’ and autistic traits it was ‘not unjust’ extradite him.
- Forensic expert questions US claims that Julian Assange conspired to crack military password.
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